3 weeks into the recovery now and I have to admit I’m feeling a lot more flexible and in a lot less pain than I envisaged at this point. Saying that I am being very careful and not extending myself in every meaning of the word. The sort of thing I have to be really careful of is the instinctive reaction like I had the other day when a cupboard door in the kitchen swung out and was about to hit Simone’s head. I reached up and out with my right hand and felt that sharp twinge of pain in the shoulder to remind me that movements such as that couldn’t be considered in the slightest.
The operation had been the most painful experience so far.
I’d been taken by my mate Rab and dropped off at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary just before 7.30 in the morning. I’d been told already my operation wouldn’t be until probably 2 in the afternoon and was looking forward to getting into a bed, stacking some zeds up and doing a bit of reading.
I eventually found the day surgery unit at the back of the main hospital and where the new Sick kids’ hospital was under noisy construction. Up the stairs to the reception where I registered and sat in an uncomfortable seat in the waiting room with about 20 other people. I noticed that patients were being called and returning minutes later. My name was called and an interview with a nurse re my identification and some basics lasted about 5 minutes and I was told to go back to my seat. Another call, this time with a friendly anaesthetist to confirm I hadn’t eaten anything in the last 12 hours. My last food was the day before at 4 when we dined gloriously on pheasant with my Mum, Simone, Liam and my friend Phil. My stomach was now rumbling and as I hadn’t had a drink of water for hours either my mouth felt like the bottom of a budgie cage. Did I mention I’d had a few glasses of wine with the meal?
The anaesthetist sent me back to the waiting room where I sat for another 15 minutes until the next interview. My back was now starting to ache and I just wanted to lie down somewhere. The final call out took me to another room where I thought that my next stop would be a bed in a ward. More routine questions followed always beginning with name and date of birth before being sent back to the waiting room. I asked when I was going to get a bed and was told that as it was day surgery I would have to sit and wait until I was called to theatre. It was by then only 9 o’clock and I had 5 hours to wait. The nurse took pity on me and showed me through to the room where patients waited to go home and where the seats were by far more comfortable. She also got the ok to give me a cup of water as the operation was far enough away to not cause anaesthetics issues. I was so grateful for the understanding.
I hunkered down in a big soft seat the only other occupant of the room being a Russian guy who could barely speak English and who I discovered was waiting on a liver operation. The TV in the corner was broken and the 5 hours felt like a sentence. I couldn’t sleep and was annoyed as I could have stayed at home and got on with writing up the sleeve notes on ‘Farewell to Childhood’ that I had hoped to have finished before the hospital appointment. I needed to do something and phoned home to ask if Simone could bring in my laptop so I could at least use my time more positively. 40 mins later she came to the front door with Elspeth and dropped off my computer before heading off as unlike my previous back operation at the Spire hospital there was no private room and nowhere for her to hang around and wait much to her disappointment.
The room I was in was by now filling up with other day surgery patients who’d discovered the comfy seats. I was being tortured as the area I was in was close to where they prepared the food for the wards and the smells of lunch menus as well as the wafting aromas of coffee were driving me crazy. The glass of water I savoured like a man adrift on a boat and it tasted wonderful.
I couldn’t find any wifi signal and my laptop announced that I had to download software to write documents. I resigned myself to writing up on an e mail which I intended to save and send to my home PC later. It was frustrating but I was happy to be working. 1000 words or so later I needed a break and headed downstairs for a vape. As I stood outside in a cloud of strawberry haze I had a shiver that wasn’t just from the chill in the weather. I returned to my seat and opened up the lid on the laptop to discover a blank screen. The computer had crashed. Windows 10 had done me over again. I knew I should have saved the tappings before I went outside and was now paying the price. All my mornings work disappeared. I was despondent and gave up any further attempt to write locking myself down into the Springsteen autobiography again. Time rolled ever so slowly by.
Around 1.30 I got the call. Again I was expecting to go through to a ward but instead found myself in a corridor where a nurse took my bags now weighed down by the computer equipment. She tagged them and put them in a luggage rack like you’d expect at a regional airport and I was shown through to another small room where I was instructed to change into a theatre gown behind a screen. It was quite surreal.
There were another 2 guys in the room which was pretty sparse apart from a sink, a trolley full of hospital accoutrements and 3 seats, the unoccupied one accepting my cold butt. A conversation developed and I discovered one of the guys had been brought in at short notice for an operation on his oesophagus after he’d been recently diagnosed with a recurring cancer condition. I shuddered and the other guy, who was in for an operation on his knee and I tried to keep the atmosphere as light as possible given the circumstances we were all now in. The cancer patient was unbelievably positive and open about his predicament and I listened to him with great admiration. He was incredibly brave and accepted his lot as given. It was obvious he was facing a huge fight. He was called and I never saw him again.
I thought I’d be last but my name was announced and I walked back through to the corridor and was instructed to climb onto the gurney that would take me to theatre. It was all happening so fast and I was thrown at the sudden change in the situation. I hadn’t quite come to terms with what was happening and the imminent surgery. I was a lot more nervous than I had been before my back operation when in this situation. Amazingly my blood pressure was ok but as the nurses struggled to put in the drip feed valve into my hand I had to concentrate on staying calm as the pain was threatening panic especially as the anaesthetists were beginning the procedures to deliver local injections into my neck and shoulder that were intended to block the severe pain I was told to expect after the operation. I was listening to the talk through of what was happening and acknowledging the strangely reassuring voices of masked people I could barely see. It crossed my mind for a moment to call the whole thing off and get up and walk away just as I sucked on the mask that had just been placed on my face. I started to drift, the anaesthetists and the room disappearing in the distance.
I woke in agony. “On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is your pain?”
“9 point 5”
Both sides of the Q and A were repeated for what seemed like an eternity as I moved in and out of consciousness on a wave of morphine that didn’t seem to be touching the intense pain in my right shoulder. I felt really calm and composed and the strangers around my bed reassuring and comforting. I remember a flurry of jokes and trying to talk properly while laughing at myself. I was told that the operation had been more complicated and involved more repair work than originally thought and that I’d been in theatre for nearly 3 hours. I certainly felt like I’d been through a battle.
I was back in the ward and going in and out of consciousness. As expected I was being kept in that night as I’d been told that as I was the last operation of the day the potential problems of recovering from a general anaesthetic needed monitoring. On top of that I couldn’t be released without consulting the physio .
The physio had come round to speak to me but I was so out of it that I even told her to forget it as I wouldn’t remember anything she told me in the state I was in. I didn’t and only just remembered her visiting me and laughing when I spoke to her.
I called Simone a couple of times when I came out of my stupor and she told me next day that I sounded completely wasted and she couldn’t make much sense of what I was saying.
I kept passing out and waking up thinking I’d just slept for an hour or so and discovering from the hands on the clock on the wall of the ward that it had only been a couple of minutes. The pain came in rolling waves and I tried to ride them as best I could. It was a strange night full of wild dreams and a reality in the ward that was surreal at times.
The beds emptied as the day surgery patients vacated the premises leaving me and one other guy in the ward. He’d been babbling, sometimes quite aggressively. I’d noticed his top lip was badly cut and mashed up and one of the crude tattoos on his arm was “1690” the date of the Battle of the Boyne celebrated by supporters of Glasgow Rangers. That was confirmed when I heard him trying to sing Gers songs and asked out loud if anyone was a Rangers supporter. He was parked up next to me when the nurses decided to move us both to a “quieter” area which turned out to be a wide corridor. He sounded drunk and was pretty unintelligible and I was nervous of any confrontation with my right arm useless and being off my head on morphine. I might not feel any pain but didn’t need any more damage. I was wary and ignored him as much as possible. I was glad when they pulled the curtains around our respective beds.
I was still bobbing in and out of my confused state kept awake by the bright lights and willing myself to tumble into a deep sleep to get me through the night. I was offered some food at some point but couldn’t stomach it settling for coffee and rich tea biscuits. I was now navigating the very early hours but time seemed not to move. The lights in the ward and corridor were eventually switched off but then I came to and everything was fully illuminated again. There was so much traffic throughout the night it felt like I was in Kings Cross station or a war time medical facility in the height of battle. Convoys of gurneys moved back and forward, nurses chatting as they followed their wake, the lights blazing on and off as the units negotiated the corridor carrying damaged strangers to wards in other parts of the hospital. It seemed incessant.
The door to the nurse’s station directly opposite my bed opened and closed with tedious regularity. The darkness that was giving me some comfort interrupted by the beacon of light from the room when the door was left ajar allowing me to hear the alien chorus of conversations belonging to the bright green scrubbed minions that shuttled unflustered back and forward throughout the night. The hours dragged by and the pain in my shoulder turned from a dull ache to a bullet wound sometime around 7am.
I’d had a couple of tablets in the night but I asked a nurse for something a bit stronger. Name, date of birth and a soothing vial of liquid morphine was poured in my mouth. As I still had hours to go before seeing the physio and the doctor to get my release paperwork it was deemed ok to allow me a visit to the lands of Orpheus for a while. Just as I floated away what seemed like an army of fresh green minions flooded into the ward as the shifts changed, some smiling, others visibly unhappy to enter the fray. I was told that the previous night had been close to overwhelming and everyone had been stretched to the limits. I was made very aware of the strained resources and the eternal demands on services we mostly take for granted. I lay in my bed and watched the arriving angels scurry around and find their places and gave my thanks and farewells to the ones that had looked after me in the long night who were now putting on coats and jackets relieved to be leaving the trenches for a while. They disappeared quickly along the long corridor as I drifted into another dream.
When I came to I felt the need to pee, one of the main prerequisites of being granted my ticket home. A woozy walk and strained relief put me back in bed with a smile. I’d drunk at least 4 pints of water during the night and my bladder was now responding with a vengeance. My neighbour had woken and was rambling again. I’d noticed that during the night he’d been greeted by passing porters and was obviously known. In my delusional mind I had him down as a “face” that’d been beaten up, a Don of thugs now hidden away for his safety in the bowels of the hospital. When the curtains were pulled back for the morning doctors rounds I started to see him in a new light.
On the return from my second toilet visit I engaged him and was immediately overwhelmed by a crushing guilt as I couldn’t have misjudged the guy more. His name was Paul and the reason behind his slurred speech wasn’t just down to meds and the dreadful wound to his mouth but also that he was mentally handicapped. He had taken a hard fall and had badly damaged his knees. His right in particular was obviously worse and he had undergone an operation to fix ligaments. Like me he just wanted to go home and was practically pleading to be let go. The physio had come round and tried to get him to walk on crutches but it was impossible for him to manage. I felt really sorry for him as he valiantly struggled to stay upright and make the few paces that would take him ultimately home. There was no way he was going anywhere.
I was by now dressed and had been given the green light to go. I was just waiting on Rab and Simone to pick me up, pain meds in a bag, instructions on physio exercises given and all paperwork to hand. I sat and talked with Paul until my mobile chirped announcing their arrival at the main door. The screens were drawn around Paul just as I was leaving and I said my goodbyes and best wishes to the stranger I’d maligned in my imagination on the other side of the curtains. His farewell was saddening and I left him trapped in a system he really didn’t want to be in.
The confusing routes around the new construction site meant I had to walk through the main hospital to find Rab who was at the entrance. I was still wrapped in the cotton wool of opiates and the journey home might as well have been on a medevac helicopter. I was detached and part of the scenery at the same time. I’d only been interred for just over 30 hours but it seemed like 30 days in a hole. The studio appeared out of the misty blue and I dissolved into the couch in front of the fire to begin my recovery as soon as I entered the sanctuary. I’d crossed the line of the surgery and now it was the long haul to get back to normality. My shoulder ached. I took more pills. The warm soft fuzz enveloped me. I just hoped I’d made the right decision to go ahead with this operation. There was so much that could still go wrong.
I had my fingers down my throat just after midnight.
I’d wolfed down the creamy mushroom and chicken pasta Simone had made me for my return and that, combined with a couple of glasses of guzzled white wine had interacted with an already confused stomach blown by meds to lower the acid levels and leave me with a chronic indigestion. The pink slime of Gaviscon wasn’t touching it and I remembered warnings from the night after my back op when it was inexplicably rationed by nurses. I figured there was a good reason so I decided to empty the contents of my stomach into a plastic basin. It was a long and painful night as I tried to sleep propped upright on pillows on the spare bed which could be cantilevered to help the position I was supposed to maintain for the next 4 weeks. Simone was an unprotesting angel and didn’t complain once as I wrestled with the discomfort and slipped in and out of consciousness. My head was spinning like a slow motion blender. I honestly don’t know what I would have done on my own and thought of Paul back in the ward.
The following days were a blur, the nights filled with codeine fuelled dreams that were lucid and entertaining, never scary and none of which I could remember fully in the morning despite trying to take notes in my mind. They were beautifully bizarre and sometimes off the charts and I allowed myself to run with them wherever they took me. Novels exploded in my head and I would find myself staring out through the French doors of the spare room into the garden as the dawn came up trying to regain my upright position on the pillows which I’d slid from in the previous hours. The pain was never far away and neither were the pills which I knew were contributing to the visions and which I knew I had to stay in control of and regulate. It was easy to see how an addiction could surreptitiously creep in to a command position. Over the next days I would limit my codeine intake and rest heavy on the ibuprofen and paracetemol tabs using the heavy cavalry for respite in the darkness. I had to admit I was enjoying the dream machine.
I was frustrated at my inability to do things. I taught myself to plunge a cafatiere holding the vessel with my good left hand and using a towel to push my head down with my right hand to avoid a scalding upsurge of liquid onto my face from a displaced filter. I managed to chop kindling via some awkwardly misplaced down strokes that threw sparks from the flagstones in front of the stove and some left shoulder numbing hits as I misjudged knots in the wood and the momentum and force required to split the timbers. I wiped my own arse, showered effectively, lined a glass of wine from a bottle with a steady left hand and after 2 weeks I was carving my own meat and finished writing the 9000 words on the keyboard for the ‘Farewell to Childhood ‘remaster. The latter did have my arm back in a sling for a day. As I said although I was well aware of overdoing things I pushed it a little too far as I got eloquent and overconfident. I had been advised to leave any typing until the second week when I could remove the sling temporarily for short periods. 9000 words took me a little longer than expected.
I managed a few days in the garden pruning and houking with my left hand. I negotiated the undergrowth like a ninja very conscious of a fall and the instinctive right arm defence, fully prepared for my face to take any hit. I built up a sweat, cleared the ground and pruned like a crazy man feeling so satisfied I was achieving something.
At night Simone and I waded through box sets; the entire ‘Black sails’ series, ‘Sneaky Pete’, both series of ‘Man in the High Castle’ and ‘Fortitude’ were avid and addictive viewing. I tried to put off going to bed as much as possible only succumbing when I was on the point of delirium. Sleep was a luxury as I continued to sporadically wake up throughout the night with my angel at hand to deliver the necessary painkillers. She put up with my snoring, moaning and constant rejigging of position without complaint, fetching glasses of water and rearranging my pillows into the mountain I was supposed to rest on. The first week we at least had the benefit of young Liam being in Germany so we could lie long behind closed curtains but on the second he returned and she was up at 8 to take him to school. I volunteered to sleep alone but Simone would have none of it. Although I’d built up a stack of brownie points taking him to school every morning before the operation I still felt guilty lying beneath a warm duvet as she raised herself from yet another disturbed night next to a snoring agitated bear to defrost a car and drive to town with her son.
I was banned from driving for at least 6 weeks and although my exercises, which I performed dutifully and more regularly after consultation with the physiotherapist were loosening me up I still wasn’t allowed to attempt to raise arms above shoulder level. An emergency manoeuvre with the steering wheel was too dangerous to contemplate. I didn’t take advantage of having a driver to take me to the pub and didn’t leave the house until the end of the second week when a visit to the Polish barber was insisted upon by Liam as I was starting to resemble the Count of Monte Christo.
I was tired of wearing tracksuit bottoms and dreamed of wearing a t shirt again. I was discovering shirts in my wardrobe I’d forgotten about but I had mastered dressing and doing up buttons and could now pull socks on with relative ease.
Simone, Liam and I took the 4 stitches out of the small wounds after there was no need for further bandaging and I could now shower without worry of opening up the scabs. The loose single loops were starting to catch my soapy fingers that could now just about reach the top of my head and my left armpit. I was healing as fast as I did with the wounds in my back and I put it down to the Chinese herbs Simone was insisting I munch regularly on and the fact that the both of us had given up smoking over a month before my operation with exactly these benefits in mind. I was feeling relatively healthy despite all. We had both being going twice a week to the gym between the back operation and the shoulder operation and Mike, our trainer, had really helped me prepare for all this. The only problem was that now I was unable to do anything and all the core muscles I’d been building up were slightly wasting as I couldn’t do any back exercises because it meant putting pressure on my shoulder area.
I stripped the sling off during the day and kept myself as busy as I could without overdoing it. As soon as there were any twinges or aches I strapped myself in again and vegetated in front of the TV letting a codeine pill take hold.
A couple of friends came over from Karlsruhe last weekend but I have to be honest and say it was the wrong time and too early for socialising. It was tough for Simone as she had to play hostess and deal with extra demands in an already stressful situation. As always she dealt with it all without complaint and although I tried to do as much as I could I wanted to do more. It was great to see old friends but we both could have done with more recuperation time together.
I exercised my mind in the office, sorting out a change in LPG gas suppliers and BT broadband issues both of which got me fired up and where I could plant my frustrations at other doors. I carried on working on the ‘Childhood’ live album, picking out photos, listening to mixes, watching DVD edits and continuing to set up that project which is now a week away from going into production.
I still couldn’t set my mind into album gearing but was drawn to the keyboard and began this in an effort to clear my mind and train the thought process. I can’t spend too long and am accomplishing this in bursts of enthusiasm before the aching grows and I have to retire to the couch again.
I’m wearing jeans again but still can’t wear anything but shirts. I long to yawn with both hands above my shoulders, to sleep on my right side, to place an axe head sure and straight and powerfully on a log, to drive a car to town, to place a seed tray onto a shelf in the greenhouse and lift a watering can, to dig over a raised bed and carry a trug of soil over to Simone’s new herb garden. At the moment I am king of the keyboard and I have to say I am enjoying myself.
Everything will come in time; I just have to be patient in every meaning of the word. My first physio visit is in 2 weeks’ time and my specialist appointment a month later. I’ll discover more then.
Four and a half thousand words.
I head for the couch and an uplifting documentary made all the more interesting with a few grains of codeine.
The sound you can hear in the distance is one hand clapping.
I was down with Simone at my Mum’s today on one of our regular visits as part of the mutual soup exchange programme we have and to pick up a couple of small slabs of smoked haddock from the fish van she’d got for us. As always we were gabbing and reminiscing and my Mum got out a couple of photo albums to show Simone some family history.
One of them had a collection of pictures of my Dad with his golf cups and some snaps of him with his mates on various golf courses. My dad was an avid golfer but had taken it up very late. He was good, in fact very good, and in all honesty if he’d taken it up earlier could have been edging on Pro status. He tried to get me into it but lack of patience and that father/son “I’ll not like what you like” teenage stance set me against it. For him it was an immense relief from the garage business and all the associated stress and pressures he had that I didn’t fully appreciate back then. Our mutual big thing was football.
During the 70’s my Dad had taken me down to London on the train to watch Scotland against England at Wembley. We had a few trips down, needless to say all were disappointing if not humiliating but the bonding sessions were unforgettable as I saw a very different side to my Dad. Football brought us together and all the alpha dynamics were forgotten at games.
In March 1988 I was booked to play a couple of shows in the Channel Islands with Marillion as part of a ‘Benson and Hedges’ music festival and decided to repay him. He had never been on the road with me only attending individual gigs throughout the years. He’d heard the stories and I knew he loved the ‘tales from the big bus’ (although there was some “tut tutting” and lowered eye brows at some recollections). My Dad was maybe a middle aged, middle class “boring” garage owner from Dalkeith but I also knew he had a great sense of adventure and a twinkle in his eye seen in old photos from his days in the REME in Kenya on national service that had been eclipsed by family demands.
With the help of my old friend John Cavanagh we set it up for my Dad to come down for a weekend with us in Jersey and told him to bring his golf clubs. He was up for it and excited at a chance to get away with me.
We all arrived in Jersey on the same flight; the band, the crew, my dad and I. We were ushered into the customs area, bags searched and all interrogated by officers. My Dad, golf bag over his shoulder sailed through unchallenged. We all looked at each other on the other side of the glass and realised we could have given him a stash.
Hotel, check in, dinner and what was a night off. Not for me and my Dad. Unbeknownst to him it had all been set up and we were going out for a show that was part of the weekend festival. He still didn’t realise until we got to the venue that we were in fact going to see his all-time hero, ‘James Last and his orchestra’. It was all totally ‘secret squirrel’ and even when I put the sticky ‘access all areas’ pass on his jacket it still hadn’t fully clicked.
To put this in context. My Dad was one of the biggest James Last fans in the galaxy and subjected me to endless repeats of his 8 tracks as we drove to Hibs matches or anywhere really. One particular adventure was our first ever family car tour through Europe in the early 70’s where James Last and his orchestra seemed to be the equivalent of cultural waterboarding to this particular progressive rock fan. Only Frank Sinatra, the occasional Carpenters album and a smattering of Beatles ‘greatest hits’ kept me from harming myself in the back seat of his Mercedes.
And here I was in Jersey with my Dad watching a live performance of a man I considered a Teutonic Satan as a teenager – and it was truly brilliant. My dad was in heaven. James Last I could only admire as a showman working a band that were pro/ talented/in the groove and totally on the money. Maybe through my Dad’s eyes and ears I was catching them from a wildly different perspective or maybe I’d just grown up and was seeing them as fellow musicians. I’d thought I’d be outside for most of the show drawing on my free B and H’s or in the bar but I watched the entire show and applauded wildly with my dad at the end of the gig. He was close to tears as he had never seen the orchestra before.
And the ‘hits’ kept on coming.
After show we hung around in the auditorium and then headed backstage for what my Dad thought was a couple of Bacardis before heading back to the hotel. When he was introduced to James Last the smile was incandescent and he was as happy as I had ever seen him. It was only a short introduction, the backstage glimmer, the deep handshake a few words and an exit as James was surrounded by admirers and fans as one would expect.
Back at the hotel my Dad and I were Number 1’s at the end of the bar holding court and I was tempering our curve as there was more to come.
An hour or so later James Last entered the building and took up a table. He was staying in the same hotel. That was our cue and I took my Dad over to the company, glass in hand, him full of cool and reintroduced them. As they’d already met and bottles were well cracked there was a meeting on the square and my Dad settled into conviviality easily with his musical idol. He was introduced to another member of the company, Tommy Horton, the professional golfer, then a Jersey resident. And that was when the cracker was pulled. “Dad we’ve arranged you’ll be going out tomorrow afternoon for a round with James and Tommy”. I’ve never seen anyone try and supress the amount of excitement my Dad was feeling at that time and stay so calm. He was beautiful.
His cool then was nothing compared to later in the day when we met before the show after his round.
“How did you get on Dad, fun time?” ( hoping it wasn’t England/Scotland Wembley scenario)
“Pretty good” (nothing given away but a slight smile)
“Did you win?” (knowing James Last was a serious golfer and Tommy a pro)
“yes” ( him starting to burst into full smile)
“ You just beat James Last and Tommy Horton?” (me incredulous)
“Yes” ( we both burst out laughing)
We delivered a hug to each other befitting of 2 grizzlies and I felt so proud of him. It was one of those moments, forever remembered, and never repeated, it happened, a spike in the glory tales. You could not have written the script.
My dad beat James Last at golf!!! And Tommy Horton the island golf pro!!
And that is the story behind this photograph. More important to me than the show; with all due respect to the Channel Islanders to whom it was more than memorable ( Hullo Will Smith 😉 ) to a lot of people and someday I really want to get back there.
To tie the circle. A friend of mine in the States has sent me a reconditioned 8 track player this week and as I lie with arm in sling for the next 4 weeks plus I will delight in racking those old James Last tapes in and thinking about Jersey and when my Dad cuffed the maestro and holed an unforgettable moment.
Three and a half hours at Edinburgh Royal infirmary today being assessed for my forthcoming shoulder operation.Endless questionnaires, blood tests and all the pre op trimmings before a meeting with the surgeon. I’m scheduled in for the 13th which thankfully is a Monday but the bad news kept on coming today.
I needed the calm of the waiting room and a few pints of water from the cooler to get my blood pressure down and hydrate after a couple of whiskies too many the night before when a shit grenade went off. The pin was pulled by some usual suspects from afar but Simone and I took the impact as intended targets. It rocked us but we’re too strong to let it get us down. Regular incoming we’ve come to expect over the years we have been together and when all is ranted and done it isn’t really our problem. I had other more important things to deal with next day.
My blood pressure was normal by the time they ran the tests and I met the surgeon feeling relatively calm about the forthcoming operation. This was the first time I was to be fully briefed about the
problem which I had been told a few months ago was a torn tendon. The scans on the screen made little sense to me but the diagnosis that followed certainly did. It wasn’t what I expected.
The “torn” tendon is actually completely detached from my arm and required bone shaving, pins and pulled over to be “glued” to the new anchors. That was one of the tears. There’s another on the other side of the joint and a possible tear on the left shoulder as well. I listened in soft shock.The word “pain” kept recurring.
It turns out my condition is worse than was originally diagnosed and the 6 month recovery could actually be 12 with no promises and a diary of excruciating physio appointments.I could opt out and put up with this existing painful condition with no power in my right shoulder for the rest of my life but I’ve decided to go for it and take the consequences, bite the bullet and accept the advice of my surgeon who is one of the finest in her field and who won me over by saying I am young enough to have a great chance of a full recovery.
I’m nervous and to be absolutely honest a bit scared at what I have elected to sign on for. This ain’t gonna be easy by any stretch of the imagination and it’s going to bite me hard and long.
In the last month I ,together with Simone have stopped smoking and we have been attending a gym in Edinburgh with a personal trainer twice a week. Mike Heatley has done wonders to help strengthen my back and develop my core muscles again. It’s the first time I’ve been at a gym for years and I’m so feeling the benefits. I’ve been using this window between operations to prepare myself and in all honesty will miss the sessions as I move into the initial healing period with my rotator cuff problem.God only knows how this will affect the writing of the album. I’m hopeful I’ll get a chance to alow the cogs to turn and pontificate on ideas and directions. I’m going to miss my right hand and my keyboard musings are most definitely going to take a lot longer and be a lot more frustrating.
I’m going to miss being involved in the garden for which Simone and I ordered all the seed and gubbings for the other day. The first 4 weeks will be hellish, sleeping upright a nightmare for which I’m going to need a lot of chemical help. It can be done and I’ll be all the better for it in the long run.
The shit grenades I am sure will continue to be thrown and I know I’ll take quite a few sniper attacks in the coming months. Bring it on! I have a strong loving lady with me by my side without whom I most definitely couldn’t deal with all this and the two of us are going to get through this together and in style. As for the doubters, the underminers, the “unlikers” and the cynics- this circle is unbroken.
We are family here. And we are strong.
I was taking a wander around the garden today armed with my trusty Polish licensed air rifle having seen a rather large rat scuttling below the bird feeders yesterday. I couldn’t but help notice roses in full bloom and green shoots peeking out of the dark muck. It was minus 5 about a week ago and 10 degrees today, now dipping into full bore on the wood burning stove territory.
I remember way back during the ‘Feast’ sessions a bit of a kerfuffle occurring on these pages as the global warming deniers rallied and ranted when I voiced my opinions. The “is he? isn’t he?” question about the president elect and the Paris agreement as Mr Trump performs more U turns on the issue than a taxi driver in the middle of an inner city riot sprung to mind.
Scrolling down to the depths of media web pages below the gory and provocative headlines I’ve noticed more and more proclamations from those once cast as ‘doom mongers who are now presenting information that’s hard to ignore and who are being slightly more resentfully respected these days.
Some of the pronouncements are rather scary. Areas of ice the size of India melting away, entire species on the brink of extinction and others struggling to cope with even a degree of temperature rise in their natural habitats. The jokey news item about how squid could replace our traditional battered cod and haddock in the traditional fish supper as the waters around this confused island warm and shift our shiny silver friends towards colder climes. Droughts and famine, floods and flames and storms out of the blue, we can still raise a smile at a Saudi skating along a snow packed highway as he shouts with glee at the new experience.
Against the savagery and overwhelming sadness in the Middle East and beyond, the posturing of babbling politicians and lawyers deciphering the “will of the people” , the cacophony of gibbering tweets from the new dank swamp and the whirling counters of this unholy Rapture that has gripped a World that seems to be creating new man made catastrophes every day, the ominous eventuality of our planet expiring through ecological reasons is the second bullet in a “double tap” suicide.
And what’s provoked me to write this?
I jogged a mouse onto the Amazon ‘Feast of Consequences’ reviews last night and was interested in the reviews for once. Not the ‘positives’ but the ‘negatives’. One of them delivered this-
“Even on the better songs Fish usual gift for a sharp lyric seems to have deserted him a bit e.g “We should have talked about the weather a bit more seriously,”
I smelled the open rose, came inside from the garden and locked away the gun in it’s cabinet. The rat can have another day scuttling around on this planet and I thank him for the inspiration.
With temperatures dropping a man has to look after his head and I decided with all this heavy frost today a Dr Zhivago moment was apt.The furry bonnet is Russian and belonged to my dad who bought it in Berlin in 1994 at Checkpoint Charlie 10 years after I’d been there during the ‘Childhood ‘ recordings and 16 years after my first ever visit. He’d been out there with my mum visiting my then in laws and my she gave the hat to me a couple of weeks ago.Happy memories and perfect timing.
Normally at this point in the year Elspeth is constantly reminding me about Christmas card designs and I admit that in recent years my card writing has been wanting, to say the least, due in the main to tours grinding right up to the start of the holidays.
Last night I reminded myself and found what I thought would make a great shot for the cover.This morning with a sharper eye I pressed the delete button but had an inkling that somewhere in the file I had opened there was a contender for the card.
By accident I came across a photo I’d taken in Krakow last year on a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine when I was there for the rescheduled Polish show. In the depths of the mine the workers excavated a huge chamber which they turned into St Kinga’s chapel and carved religious reliefs into the rock. The massive space is lit by crowds of chandeliers made from salt and contribute to a dramatic and beautiful experience.
I saw the chandelier image and opened the file to find that this particular chandelier was illuminating nativity scenes and you can quite clearly see the 3 kings carved into the rock face.It couldn’t have been more fitting and I was really chuffed to find it and hand it to Elspeth to get to the printers in perfect time for getting them signed and sent out.
It’s been a busy week crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s with everything to do with the new releases. Identifying any glitches and setting up the ‘distribution’ for what we expect to be a huge rush of orders in the run up to Christmas has taken a lot of thought. John Reid has been sorting out the web site and mail order pages to make sure the remaster/’Feast’ T shirt offer works smoothly and it looks like it will be up and running by tomorrow night. An announcement will be made here and on the website when it’s working and can take preorders so please hold off until then.
My back is getting better slowly but surely and I had to remind myself to take it easy at the weekend after slightly overdoing it on the Friday. Mark and Julie Wilkinson were up and I spent a lot of time recumbent on the couch letting things settle again while we talked all things ‘Weltschmerz’ and Mark threw his ideas onto the table. It seems we are both working towards the same goal from different sides and we were both getting quite excited about the project despite it being in very early stages. I admit to getting quite inspired from our conversations and I could sense the monkeys on the typewriters in my head chattering away more than normal.
Fine wines, food and company in front of the fire listening to Leonard Cohen, Caravan, Japan and Free on crackling vinyl. What more do we need?
It must have been a sign of our age as phones were mostly ignored all weekend and we completely forgot to take a selfie ! 🙂
The back settled down and I paid more attention to physio in the last few days. It’s a lot stronger but still in recovery and I have a visit to the hospital to see the surgeon on Saturday. I’m still not driving and haven’t been out the house, apart from in the garden, since the operation.By the time I get down to the Polish barbers I’ll have a beard that could get me a gig at Jenner’s Store as Santa.
I’m still frustrated at not being able to contribute much in the house but Simone has been doing a wonderful job looking after me. I must admit to not missing the school runs and getting an extra hour under the duvet although I feel guilty when I hear the hiss of deicer and the rumbling of windscreen wipers over knobbly frozen glass through the window. I’ll make up for it.
Phone calls to agents and promoters are setting up a European tour in October and November with a UK tour being booked for December. It gets my heart racing a bit when I think about it as a tour means having the new album written and recorded, promotion carousels and finding a band. A lot to sort out in time that is more fleeting by the moment.
Somewhere in all that I have a shoulder operation and a letter from the NHS yesterday is setting up that particular showdown for roughly 12 weeks away. I think what I am dealing with just now is a dawdle compared to what is coming at me in the next months
If the results are the same as what I am experiencing from the spine op I’ll be a happy man indeed.
Tonight is a log fire, a chunk of chicken and home grown mashed tatties with cabbage, a goblet of wine and settle down on the couch to start series 2 of ‘The Blacklist’, out preferred eye candy of choice just now. I’m just glad I’m not out there in the freezing ice and fog on a tour bus curled around a warm roadie just now.
To my compadres out there on the road tonight, happy trails and remember getting there safe and sound is more important than a late arrival. The gig will always be there.
Well it’s been a smorgasbord of a weekend. Simone’s daughter Tara arrived on Friday and her boyfriend Pavel flew in from Poznan around midnight just as the embers of our bonfire died away and the gluhwein and rum ran out. It was fantastic to see them over here for the first time since Simone Rösler moved over and Liam was really happy to see his sister and show off his new home. Saturday we ventured down to Belhaven Beach to let Tara and Pavel, who are both windsurf teachers, see one of our local surfing venues.It was a blowy cold northerly wind but despite the November conditions there were still surfers playing in the white tops of a pretty chewed up sea.The Bass rock was resplendent in faraway sunshine.
A collection of sea shells and a pair of sore knees later we were back in the studio for a chicken madras before bopping out again to town to catch the Haddington fireworks.We intended to head to the site but a stop off in the Waterside to meet up with my mate Rab had us holed up in the warmth longer than expected. As we stood outside by the river, chilled savvy in gloved hands the splutter of coloured sparks over a wall and some distant classical music echoing under the Nungate bridge,had us thinking we had missed it.We hung around for another few minutes and decided to head for home in order to mix the exodus from the park. Just as we crossed the bridge a barrage of fireworks exploded above the bistro and stopped us in our tracks. This was the main event and we were perfectly positioned on the opposite bank from the Waterside to catch it all. It was pretty spectacular and the customary “ooohs and aahhs” steamed happily from our mouths on a now brightly lit cold November evening.
A taxi home to the wood burning stove and a warm hi fi playing vinyl into the wee hours with glasses of rum and red wine to hand ended our day and we drifted off to bed the strains of John Martyn and Crosby Stills, Nash and Young still in our heads.
I picked up my Mum from North Berwick on Sunday afternoon to bring her up to our home for Sunday dinner. Simone delivered a great roast lamb and we had a fine family meal round the big table before I took my mother home in the evening. It was the first time she had met Tara for a while and she loved having the kids around and being with our new family.She’s in great spirits and I’m so proud of the way she has dealt with everything this year. An amazingly strong and resourceful woman and still a pillar to both me and Simone her resilience never ceases to amaze me.
After such a great weekend together it was sad to say goodbyes to Tara and Pavel at the airport but we knew the ‘Luftbrucke’ had been initiated and we know they will be visiting us more regularly especially when the snow arrives as they are both also avid skiers and want to see the Highlands.
Monday as always was a flurry of action on the front lines.
‘Crows’ was given the thumbs up and is now away to the production plant. Calum has the audio from Steve Vantsis and is mastering ‘Moveable Feast’ this week. Steve is putting together the ‘Farewell to Childhood’ audio and we are discussing a possible multi track mix with Chris Kimsey with another show and a DVD from the Berlin show potentially in that package.
Photos for ‘Moveable Feast’ are being assembled and the sleeve notes will be finished in the next couple of days as I need to get that rushed into position if I want it out for December with ‘Field of Crows’.
Another reason I need it in hand relatively quickly is that I heard yesterday that I will be in hospital for my spine operation on Saturday. It came at me out the blue and I was at first a bit nervous and reluctant to commit to such a quick turnaround but the situation is fast deteriorating and I need to deal with this as soon as possible.My main worry was how am I going to be able to watch the England v Scotland World cup qualifier on Friday night without drinking heavily! 🙂
I’ve been told I will hopefully be out on Sunday, just in time for my Mum’s birthday, and I’ll be able to get around although gingerly. Hopefully I will be recovered for Christmas but sadly I will miss the SAS band Christmas shows in the first week of December as I just won’t be ready for stage by then.
To add to the list I have an appointment at the Royal in Edinburgh this afternoon to follow up on the ultra sound I had done in May when they diagnosed a torn tendon in my shoulder. It’s still torn and certain movements put me in agony. I was told 5 months ago that I probably needed an operation to tie it together and today I find out how long the next wait will be. It’s another health issue that has to be sorted quickly as between that and my back/ leg problems I haven’t had a full decent nights sleep for well over 12 months. I just hope the NHS can deliver this time as I can’t afford another private operation just now.
I’m reminded of just how fast this year has flown by as I have to take the Volvo down to the garage to get my winter tyres put on. It seems like yesterday when I had them changed the last time.With snow in the forecast ( much to Liam’s excitement) it’s time to prepare for what looks like being a tough winter on every level.
It’s as full on as you would expect here but I am so looking forward to getting my mobility back and being relatively pain free. I’m frustrated at my inability to perform basic tasks just now and dream of getting down a gym to get this body back into some level of fitness and reduce an expanding waistline that hasn’t been worked on since I finished the last tour. It will all happen in time.
Back home after a couple of days in Karlsruhe visiting family and tidying up some business issues.It was the first time Simone had been back since she moved here with Liam at the end of July so quite an emotional return accentuated by the fact it was my lady’s birthday on Wednesday. It was wonderful seeing her daughters again both of whom have settled well into our new arrangements. The visit was good timing as Simone’s youngest daughter Mona is heading out to South East Asia and Australia in a couple of weeks for a 6 month trek and her oldest daughter Tara starts her final year at Uni with a masters degree in economics her aim in 2017. With my own daughter Taz ensconced in France for the foreseeable future Simone and I are embracing our own lives here with her son Liam happy in the knowledge that our young women are finding their own places in the world.We are creating our own beautiful space together and my lady’s visible happiness was commented on by her girls who recognise that we are both so good for each other.Simone’s parents and their partners are also hugely supportive of our situation and their initial worries have all been dispelled as they have seen us all settle into our respective positions. Spending a couple of days with them all really brought the family together and with Simone’s Tara visiting us in a couple of weeks and her mother and partner coming over for Christmas we all feel a lot closer and less concerned about the distance than we did in July.
As well as quality family time we spent Thursday night after dinner with Simone’s Dad and his wife at the Kranz with our friends #steffenmross #petrapetti #michaelschneider #carstendelaporte Simone’s brother #torstenroesler , his girlfriend and some of Simone’s friends and her daughter #monagolecki splashing some Grauburgender around and me going over all things football with a good dose of Euro politik thrown in. A fine baying of party animals was to be heard before we retired for a relatively early night as we had a flight home next day.
We were glad to get back to the Studio as I had a workload to deal with. The material is now all chosen for the ‘Moveable Feast’ project which is now 4 CD’s across 2 German shows, one with Foss Paterson and the other with John Beck on keyboards. It’s a wealth of material and #SteveVantsis has done a great job compiling and processing the audio. I should be finished writing up the ‘Field of Crows’ sleeve notes by Monday and can then start collecting the photos which thankfully are now in digital folders rather than printed photos that are a trial to find. Steve is now focusing on filtering through the ‘Farewell to Childhood’ material and I’ll be writing up and choosing images for the 2 projects which should be a lot less demanding on my memory banks than the ‘Crows’ era which straddles a lot of history.
The only downer among all this is that my back problems have intensified and I have been in increasing pain in the last couple of weeks. In Karlsruhe they took a turn for the worse and I lost all feeling in the sole of my right foot due to trapped nerves. I had been waiting on my doctor getting back to me on the possibility of having what is now the inevitable operation on the NHS and after calling him yesterday when I returned I’ve been advised to follow the private route as I’m looking at a long wait otherwise. I’ve reached the point where something has to be done very soon and so on Monday I’ll be booking the operation at the Spire hospital in Edinburgh.Hopefully this will happen in November but the 6-8 weeks recovery are going to have a big effect on both current and future plans. Financially it’s a big hit at over £8k just for the op with physio topping that up into eye watering numbers. However this has to be done and the sooner the better as it’s not only extremely painful and de-habilitating but also affecting my mental processing and making it difficult to focus on doing anything creative. Long term this is my only option and thoughts on retirement will have to be postponed for now as album writing, recording and touring will all have to be moved back.
There was a very sad and concerning irony as when I was at my mum’s before I went to Germany she showed me an article in her newspaper about Phil Collins who is now walking with a stick after he had an unsuccessful ba
ck operation. I’ve no idea about Phil’s exact problem but it sent a shiver through me. The good news is that he is about to head out on a tour and all I can hope is that my problem isn’t as exacerbated as his and that my operation literally gets me back on my feet as soon as possible, unaided and relatively pain free. I’m now committed to getting this done and hopefully my procedure will sort my problems out. There’s a garden to be dug and stages to be conquered next year and I want to be all singing and dancing again before the season starts.
It turns out the fluffy wee bunnies cavorting down in the orchard are making forays into the kitchen gardens. I’d thought the tall raised beds would act as a deterrent but it appears I have “wererabbits” who’ve climbed up and nipped all the tops off my carrots. It’s not feasible to wire off the garden and make it rabbit proof and the family won’t let me get out the air rifle. ( a dilemma as I love rabbit stew as well!). The only solution seems to be bringing forward the acquisition of a dog or at least a couple of cats. We want to wait until end of October for the cats as we have a week away in Germany visiting family during the school holidays but the dog was scheduled for next Spring and now might appear earlier than planned.
pellets required would probably be very unorganic and give us all lead poisoning. The only answer I have apart from squishing them between my fingers is a good dose of pyrethrum, the organic pesticide nuke. I’d planted a lot of nasturtiums in the kitchen garden this year as they are a ‘sacrificial’ plant that the Cabbage whites prefer to brassicas. The problem is that the CW’s have laid eggs on the nasturtiums which have hatched and the hairy bastards have crawled down below the nets and onto my purple sprouting broccoli where they are currently feasting.
Strangely enough recent strong winds blew the nets off another Sprouting broccoli bed and I left it off hoping the butterflies had gone for the season. There’s no damage on those particular plants and I’m putting it down to a lack of nasturtiums in that corner as well as it being next to the bird feeders.I’ll leave the nets off the infested bed today and see if there’s a sparrow feeding frenzy. That would save my aching shoulder from pumping pyrethrum spray over the critters which in all honesty I’d prefer not to do as it’s harmful to bees of which I have hundreds on the big lavenders and who also flit among the nasturtiums which are still in flower!
The orchard is overloaded this year and it’s visited more as we put the table and chairs from ‘The Balcony’ down there. It’s a wonderful place of peace and solitude and the chairs are next to the cairn we put to mark the cat’s burial spots and where the ashes of ‘Borgumil’ the Irish wolfhound that I brought back from Durlach on the tour bus are to be buried. Our dream was always that ‘Borgie’ would one day run in this garden but it wasn’t meant to be and we lost him before we could make our move to here. We plan to put something special to mark the spot where they all now lie together and where we can sit and take in the tranquility and where I know I will find an inspiring place to write. It feels like another dimension has been added to the garden as the orchard draws us down to another space we only really looked at but never spent real time in.
The ‘Blue house is the next works project to be nominated as after 13 years weathering and despite the paint overs and tarting up it’s got to the point where I have to replace all the woodwork on the front door area as it’s rotten and falling apart. Originally just indoor softwood frames from B and Q it had been hoped the outdoor paint would weatherproof it for longer but it’s past the point of saving now. I’m hoping to cut one of the huge panes of glass from the studio renovation in half and create 2 big windows with a hardwood door between but we’re not sure if we can or if it’s cost effective to cut the laminated glass. Either way it has to be repaired as I want to grow plants under LED lights in the ‘Blue house’ throughout the winter and need it sealed. I’ll be digging up the sprawling globe artichokes that are in front of the house and now overshadowing it, moving them to another bed and paving that small area to use for a cold frame set up.
One thing that has been considered is setting up video blogs on a dedicated section of the website where we can schedule weekly programmes and talk about what we are doing and giving general updates on the garden. I’m no Monty Don or anywhere near having the knowledge and expertise of the Beechgrove garden gurus but that’s the point. Rab and I thought over this at coffee break one day as we were pondering over the brassica net problems. Rab has no experience of gardening but he’s been learning fast and has come to love it. I have a basic knowledge of most things green but spend a lot of time googling and reading up and have learned a lot in the past year or so. I’ve been passing this new knowledge onto Rab and we have both been getting an education. I love the professional shows but also like finding tips on You Tube from amateur gardeners some of whom are not particularly great with cameras on both sides of the lens.
extension a couple of years ago. Simone’s terracotta pots that were brought over fitted perfectly into place and with the wisteria, scented honeysuckle, jasmine and roses all starting to take off the ‘New Balcony’ has been born. I added to this last week when I threaded 3 lengths of solar powered LED fairylights around the pergola and it is now a little slice of heaven sprinkled with starlight. Even if it’s cold we find ourselves huddled up outside and taking in the night air just as we did in Durlach.
In April this year I was approached by my German agency representative and good friend, Dominik to ask if I could play a show in Switzerland in September. He’d been contacted by another good friend , Norbert Mandel who runs the Z7 venue in Pratteln and who also promotes a festival just outside Basel. Norbert needed a huge favour as his headline act for the last night of the festival had pulled out of all their scheduled shows due to the sudden death of one of their members.The band, ‘Riverside’ were old acquaintances and I’d heard about the tragic death of their guitarist, Piotr Grudziński the month before. I told Dominik that I would not have a rehearsed band available then and to bring them together for a one off show in Switzerland did not make any sense. He offered me a German pick up band who could rehearse in Karlsruhe and I could work with them a couple of days there before playing the festival on the Sunday. This was out of my comfort zone but after checking out the musicians on You Tube I decided to go for it. Norbert was exceedingly grateful but in all honesty he had helped me out with shows in the past and had always been supportive so this was the least I could do for him.
The arrangements were made and everything was put in place. I just had to choose a set list for the band to learn. I decided against a full performance of ‘Misplaced’ as I’d declared Bilston Robin as the last outing and didn’t want to be seen to be perpetuating the tour. I also didn’t want to put the new band under pressure too much so opted for some more straightforward songs that didn’t require lots of sound work.and back up effects. I chose Feast of Consequences, Long Cold Day, Family Business, Misplaced side 1, Lucky, Market Square Heroes and Internal Exile with the Company as an encore. I only had to fill 70 mins and these songs gave me a good variation for a festival set. The months crept by and it was all on pause in the back of my mind until a few weeks ago.
I was aware that I hadn’t sung a full set since end of April and with all my ongoing back and knee problems I wasn’t exactly a specimen of health as any fitness training outside of gardening duties was out the question. I was glad it was only a 70 minute set. Rehearsals were scheduled for the Friday and Saturday before the show in Durlach at my good friend and former BAP drummer Juergen Zoellers studio. I’d hoped the trip would coincide with Liam’s September school holidays so we could all be there but I ended up with the strange experience of being in Durlach staying in the ‘Blauer Reiter’ hotel just 10 minutes walk away from our old Balcony on my own. I arrived in Stuttgart on Friday morning and Dominik drove me to the hotel where we had lunch before rehearsals.
The band had just set up when I arrived and were about to play the set together for the first time as all their homework had been done alone.We were all a bit nervous for the first 20 minutes but got into the nitty gritty pretty fast. Apart from a few sound and groove issues that were easily sorted out they had really got to grips with the songs and on the second set run through I was very confident that by Sunday it would be more than just acceptable live. Willy Wagner was bass player and MD for this show. I’d met him once before when he was playing with Juergen Zoeller’s band and they were on a night out at the Kranz. A highly affable guy and a great bass player with wonderful textured sounds he knew what he was on about and had prepared well for the sessions. He had the added bonus of having a birthday on gig day. Tony Clark was my guitarist. An American with a German mother, brought up in Seattle and moved back to Frankfurt in the 90’s he was a real likeable character with a healthy touch of the zany about him. Also an accomplished musician he surprised me when he took out a Japanese flute from his stacks and wowed us with a few deep trills. It turned out he’d studied Japanese music and was in fact a man of many talents. Michael Hauser was our keyboard player and like the others had done his homework on the arrangements and the sounds before he arrived at the studio. Well together and another easy going character he had the keys well under control. Our final band member was Moritz Mueller. A highly respected drummer with a list of credentials like the others he was so busy that the first 2 days he headed back home to Frankfurt after rehearsals for other sessions. A great player he had the set in hold on the first run through with only a couple of pointers to be made. He never stopped smiling.Considering this was our first meeting and run through it went exceptionally well.
Juergen Zoeller popped in to see us and he was suitably impressed. I’d know about his rehearsals studio for a while but had never been there. His drum collection needless to say was impressive and he played back the video that was promoting his new album due for imminent release. It was great to see him so excited and animated with this new project and I loved his energies that were still high after decades in the music industry. You can catch the first video of the title track from the Zoeller and Konsorten album here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLplwn1DmZ8
Juergen joined us later in the Vogelbraeu beer garden as we indulged in a “band bonding session” with schnapps and beers a go-go. We were joined by my sound engineer Alistair Lindsay who flew in that afternoon to be at our final day of rehearsals to get to know our stage set up. My good friends Steffen and Petra were also there and with help from our Irish waiter Nyall we managed to trip the light fandango till I crashed just before midnight. It had been a long day having left the Studio at 5 o’ clock that morning for the journey out leaving Simone to take Liam to school on her first solo outing in the car. We called each other just before the zeds took hold. It was quite surreal talking to my lady in Scotland from a hotel in Durlach!
I was surprisingly fresh next morning considering the previous nights session. Clean corn schnapps and beer had something to do with it with no toxic fall out registering in my system. I did hug the duvet till late morning and emerged into another blistering day for coffee in the garden before rehearsals. I’d arrived later than expected but had brought a tray of coffees as a token of mild apology that was graciously accepted by one an all. Alistair was slightly bleary but everyone else had already racked up the first 3 numbers of the set and had springs in their tails.We ran through a faultless ‘Misplaced ‘ and the rest of the material and decided it was all in place and ready for a stage. There was no point in continuing the run throughs as the band had mastered the songs and in my experience over rehearsal is as bad as under rehearsal. There’s a point the brain saturates and you start to overthink, screw up and then lose perspective on what you’re trying to achieve. I considered us more than ready for Switzerland and called a wrap on the day. It was sunny outside and the Biergarten was calling us.
I took in the Celtic Rangers game on my laptop in my hotel room then joined Alistair for some precautionary “Radler” shandies before moving gently into the curve of the evening. Yatta was due in around 7. I’d offered to fly him in for a ‘busman’s holiday’ and as he is now acting as agent for ‘Lazuli’ he could catch both our shows, set up some business and enjoy a weekend away from home with no pressures. I hadn’t see him since he left Durlach in the Clown Carrier bound for Scotland with the returning German merchandise. Again it was strange catching up here again in the biergarten where we’d had our last meal together. Even stranger was meeting up with Simone’s daughter Mona who works part time as a waitress at the Vogelbraeu and who I’d arranged to see when I was over. We hadn’t seen her since we left for the airport in July and Simone and Mona obviously deeply missed each other. Simone was worried that Mona might be upset at the fact her mother wasn’t there this time and that meeting me now might be difficult for her. We shouldn’t have worried as a smiling happy Mona bounded up to our table and big hugs were to be had. It was great to see her and we talked about Liam’s school and how he was fitting in and how her Mum was finding Life in Scotland.We swapped photos and videos and I called Simone at home so she could talk to her. It was a lovely short time and we both promised to try and get together in Scotland before she goes off on her 6 month trip to South East Asia and Australia.
Yatta finally arrived with Dominik and we dined on roasted pig knuckles with accompanying beers and schnapps. The band, minus a gigging Moritz, elected to move to the Kranz to meet up with Steffen, Petra and Carsten so we settled the bill and said our parting goodbyes to Mona to head up the main drag to the pub. Carousing continued and it was great to have new story boxes opened with Andy a fine teller of tales that grew wings and wildness as the shots of schnapps became an endless parade.I had one eye on my watch and as midnight approached I took my leave and avoided the procession to the only kebab shop still open. We were up early for the 90 minute drive to Basel and our festival venue. I needed a decent sleep before the big day.
The band were at breakfast when I hit reception around 9.30 on yet another blue sky day. Alistair was peely wally and had been throwing up all night. He blamed the pig but the jury had it down to schnapps intake.Yatta was shaken but not stirred and the rest of us were slightly fuzzy but nothing a long drive with an open window wouldn’t sort out. We headed for Basel and Pratteln beyond.
Everytime I’ve read a tour itinerary and seen “Pratteln- day off” mentioned I’ve sighed as with all due respect it’s a particularly boring town with nothing going for it.I’ve spent hours in the past reccying back streets for restaurants and things to do and the most interesting establishment I ever found was a Sex Supermarket on the second floor of one of the many banal concrete structures that make up the bland urban landscape.The Z7 club is the only reason to go there as far as we were concerned. Today’s venue was an open air only a few minutes from Pratteln and I admit I didn’t do my homework before coming out. If I’d known of the existence of Augusta Ruarica a few years ago my days off in Pratteln would have been a lot more interesting.
As we came into the area you couldn’t but help notice the occasional lonely Roman pillars and sections of broken ancient stonework along the streets among the village buildings. It turned out that this was a major Roman metropolis that had been constructed in 50BC and thrived until it’s eventual destruction around 330AD when the Empire collapsed. Only a few major structures remained but the entire area was a huge ongoing archaeological dig and new information about the town and it’s inhabitants was being discovered all the time. It was a truly fascinating place. Our stage was facing the old amphitheater, one of the largest remaining North of the Alps and it was a magnificent setting. I wandered around the site in the baking sun soaking up the history. 15000 people had once lived here and it had been a thriving place of culture and commerce it’s position on the banks of the Rhein making it a very important trading centre. As the Roman Empire crumbled and the native tribes pushed South and reclaimed their territories the colony had come under prolonged and sustained attacks. The town had shrank and eventually near disappeared by 350AD helped along by starvation, disease and a harsh climate. Today it lies mainly beneath modern structures but the maps and models that can be seen by the amphitheater make you very aware just how important and extensive Augusta Ruarica was back then. http://www.augustaraurica.ch/en/ https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g2538993-d3458199-r171431463-Augusta_Raurica-Augst.html
After a quick wander in the backstage area and it’s surroundings I was looking forward to more exploring but soundcheck was first up. Alistair quickly got the channels to hand and one by one the band checked in. We ran through ‘Feast’ together and all was tickety boo. There was no need to play anymore and everyone was confident with their sounds on stage. We headed to the hotel to check in and quickly get back on site as I wanted to go to the nearby museum with Yatta. Urgent messages on the mobiles to return to deal with a “huge problem” were ominous. ‘Lazuli’ were using the same outfront desk as us and their engineer had accidentally deleted our sound files that Alistair had saved on the desk thereby wiping our soundcheck and requiring us to go onstage that evening after a line check. It wasn’t what we needed but I had faith in my out front engineer to come up with the goods. The band I knew were good enough to handle it as well.
It was great to see the ‘Lazuli’ boys after such a long time and I had the added bonus of catching up with Chris Thompson and his Norwegian backing band again. I’d worked with Madds the guitarist and the guys before in Bergen with Chris and we’d done a couple of German festivals together in the past.Gunnar the keyboard player and I got on particularly well and there were lots of smiles when we all caught up. As expected Chris and I shared ailments and he recommended a support to try out on my knees. He looked in great shape and his plaited beard had come a long way since I last saw him. My daughter had driven over from France to see the festival and spend some time with her boyfriend Romain.Taz hadn’t seen Chris Thompson since she came with me to New Orleans over 10 years ago for an SAS band corporate gig so the catch up photo was obligatory.
I had time to kill and after the sound situation was dealt with Yatta and I headed across the road to the museum. We are both suckers for historical stuff and a museum less than a spear’s throw from the backstage tent and with a treasure on display was a serious draw.
The local council or whoever deals with Ruarica have done a fantastic piece of work with street displays and signposts to various locations around the town to give the visitor a great insight in to what it was like back then. None more so than a fully reconstructed Roman villa an annex to which was the museum. It was well laid out with pride of place going to a massive collection of silver objects that had been found during excavation works back in 1961. The biggest hoard of ancient silver discovered in Europe is reckoned to have been buried just outside the walls of the fortress and belonged to 2 men , one a Roman commander. I thought it was a pretty smart move burying it outside the walls rather than in their villas and obviously the marauders or whoever were on the rampage took care of the owners and the silver was subsequently undiscovered until a digger ripped up the hiding place. It wasn’t even as if it was immediately recognised as a silver hoard as it lay in mud and snow for months with some people thinking it was just old rubbish. There were pieces found that were about to be thrown out by their owners as they considered them just scrap metal. The artifacts now cleaned up are dazzling in every respect and the silversmith work leaves you open mouthed. My favourites were the soup spoons and the huge traveling candle that broke down into pieces for transport. There were copies of the spoons for sale in the museum shop at 100 quid a pop and I’m sure an oligarch or two had picked up a set to impress their dinner guests. The price tags were out of my league even though the wee voice in my head was tempting me with “go on, buy one, it’s an investment!”
Yatta and I wandered around the exhibits and had a laugh later as both of us had been thinking about a heist after noticing security seemed pretty lax! ( If anything happened after we left we both have cast iron alibis). It was fascinating and I couldn’t but help being reminded that this had all once been part of a huge thriving colony of a bygone Empire that has long since disappeared in the murk of ages. The reconstructed Roman house was also to be marveled at. It had been paid for by private investors and was worth every penny. Wandering through the villa made it easy to imagine the simplicity of Life back then and the atmosphere was so tranquil. At the same time I shivered at the thought of what happened to people here once the defenses eroded and help from the South was cut off leaving them alone to fend for themselves.
It was a great way to pass an afternoon and we headed to catering for something to eat before ‘Lazuli’ hit the stage. The crowd was a bit sparse and spread out in the amphitheater but by the end of the set the boys had done their work and encouraged the audience to dance and get involved.The went off to a fine reaction but as always it would be great to see this band playing in front of bigger crowds as they deserve more. Yatta has set up a clutch of dates for them in the UK at the end of November and I hope they get the attendances they need to keep things moving forward.They were happy with the show and that is all that matters.
Chris Thompson and his band were up next and he delivered exactly what you expect from an old hand at this game. The band were tight and put in a great set containing old stalwarts like ‘Blinded by the Light’, ‘Davies on the Road Again’,’ Mighty Quinn’ and ‘Don’t Kill it Carol’. Pro and on the dot it was another great performance from the vocal meister who shows no sign of slowing down and for a man who’s 70 next year he is still hitting all the notes. He never ceases to amaze me.
A longer set up for us as we needed to line check after the desk debacle and I’d decided that I’d approach this gig from a different angle as the crowd and setting suggested a more intimate approach. I entered centre stage and mentioned why I was there , dedicating the set to Piotr Grudziński. I introduced the band onstage one by one and we fell into ‘Feast of Consequences’. ‘Long Cold Day’ and ‘Family Business’ followed and everyone had settled down quickly into playing and enjoying the performance. I did not for any moment feel uncomfortable or out of place and the band with only a couple of run throughs in the previous days was pretty tight. ‘Misplaced side 1’ was up next and there were no trip ups or awkward glances as we sailed through the sections. The only problem I had was with the inevitable cameras that came to bear and as there were so many it was pointless getting too upset. However there was one guy who parked an i phone with a microphone on stage right in front of me and who showed little interest in the actual performance that did nark me. He was standing alone with his back mostly to stage and ignored me when I shouted down to him to move his equipment. By ‘Heart of Lothian’ I was fired up and tried to kick it off stage. This just irritated him and next time I didn’t miss but lost my glasses in the process. A bit of verbal followed him as he left the auditorium and I was close to letting the remonstrations get out of hand. The crowd were, I think a bit shocked at my outburst and I was in danger of blowing the great vibe we’d had up till now. I reined myself in and then intro’d and launched into an attacking version of ‘Lucky’. ‘Market Square’ kept the ball in the air and after another ‘Scottish’ introduction we ended the set with ‘Internal Exile’. The adrenalin and white wine took away the pain and I jumped from the stage to dance with the crowd as the band jigged away above me. A great reaction carried us off stage and then we hit them with ‘Company’ as our only encore. Watching ballet dancers in an amphitheater has a lot to beat.
It was a wonderful show and the boys did brilliantly. We took our bows and left with heads held very high indeed. Photos with the Company Italy afterwards and lots of smiles and quaffing of wine among friends old and new. It was a fantastic vibe and we carried it back to the hotel with us and rode it out till the bar closed. Thankfully for me that was earlier than anticipated and I hit my room before 1 as I had a flight home next day and a relatively early rise. The weekend had been a huge success and although I enjoyed the gig I was glad that this would be my last full show until at least June next year.
Dominik was pushing me for more shows with this band but I am not considering anything until after I have written and recorded ‘Weltschmerz’. I may use some of the guys on the album and nothing is ruled out regarding the future band line ups. There may be times like with this Swiss gig where to make it happen I have to consider changing personnel and with so many unanswered questions after Brexit who knows where the European touring situation will go. If visas are required in the future, as we have to deal with in North America, then one offs and small tours may only be feasible with European musicians. Who knows at this point? I enjoyed playing with the guys and we all had a load of fun together. I’d like to do it again sometime but as I said my focus is now on writing a new album. I’m sure there will be space for some Japanese flute playing on it ! 🙂
Monday was pain. I arrived home bent, twisted and aching in every bone, tendon and muscle. A hot bath with magnesium mineral oils took away the edge but I was regretting that off stage jump and the jigging on ‘Exile’ 24 hours before. It was great to be back with a smiling family and sitting around a table together eating dinner as the sun set over the Blue house. I’m glad I am off the road for a while and getting my Life into some sort of normality with a sense of routine to deal with instead of pinballing around airports, backstage areas, hotels and venues. I’m looking forward to this relative downtime with my lady and my stepson and getting on with our new lives here. This is a happy place and I intend it to remain so. Our northern villa on the edge of empires.
Another breakdown in communications between the removal agent and the crew on the road train who were scratching their heads in front of a monstrous black 19 metre vehicle stranded on the main farm drive. I’d provided all the information required on both properties months before and had told the agent that the farm road wasn’t suitable for a road train. He’d told me that our belongings were coming up from Liverpool in a long wheel based truck. After 3 weeks of waiting on it to finally arrive here we were facing up to the possibility of having our stuff returned to Liverpool to be reloaded and delivered as the added shit cherry of this situation was that our consignment was on the trailer and not the detachable truck. The two operatives were entirely sympathetic to our dilemma and we placed all our hopes on maneuvering the Goliath between the storage sheds and containers and up the back road which involved a tight turn and a climb up a short steep slope with a broken uneven surface that ran all the way up to the studio. I’d had a double decker tour bus up there but that was with a confident driver used to squeezing around stage load in areas. I left the road train driver to recce the route and headed back to the studio to await their verdict. There was no point in hanging around and getting wound up as ultimately it was their decision.After about 20 mins I was still waiting and decided to go down to the storage sheds. I found them parked up and just starting to unload our boxes into the container we’d recently hired to store all the German merch that Yatta had brought over. I’d caught them just in time. They explained that our friend Arthur who worked on the farm had pointed them at the container thinking it was just more merch arriving. Rab had been working in the container that morning and had left the doors open. Cue bad comedy moment! The good news was that they’d got past the difficult section and 10 mins later after reloading were parked up outside the Studio. It was a different team from the Durlach pick up and they struggled a bit in the heat that was shimmering in the fields beyond. First things off were the rose and the hydrangea which were remarkably healthy considering 3 weeks of incarceration. The ground team at the Liverpool storage base had obviously let them out into the daylight over the period as our Durlach Britannia team had promised.
The guys shuffled and shuttled back and forward and the truck was emptied pretty quickly. Simone’s prep had paid off with all the boxes and items designated for various rooms and areas now in situ.We’d thought this all out well in advance on the Balcony and everything was slotting into place now. The only tricky question was how to deal with the couches. Two were already on the trailer having been out in Germany for a couple of years but we had a massive 3 seater taking up space in the studio. We needed all 3 of them in the container as they had been sold and were to be picked up that weekend by the buyers. A smile and a pass of folded notes to the guys as a contribution to their beer vouchers that night sorted out our problem. They puffed, cursed and heaved the gargantuan couch out to the trailer and I was so glad it wasn’t my back taking the strain. A scribble and a shake of hands and the road train disappeared in a cloud of dust into the sunset leaving us smiling in a landscape of cardboard boxes and disassembled furniture.
The only thing broken was a terracotta pot holder. Even the hastily packed Liberty lamp shade had arrived unscathed and it had been earmarked as a possible casualty of the move. It was an incredible feeling watching the flat in Durlach emerging from boxes and bubble wrap and taking it’s place here in Scotland. Although we had imagined it many a time over a glass on the Balcony here it all was seamlessly merging with the existing Studio to the point where it was difficult after a few hours to tell what had been here originally. In the space just short of a day it would become our home.
Tara’s old rickety bed had been dismantled and taken out that morning to await pick up from the recycling squad with the mattress added to the container and destined for her Mum’s house. Rab busied away rebuilding the Durlach bed and the 19th century wooden wardrobes which slotted together much to his amazement with no nails or screws involved. The old Biedermeier furniture had been designed with easy movement in mind and broke down into pieces that could be easily transported. Some of the joints were a bit loose and shrunken after years of central heating but a few well placed strips of monster tape held them together and made them moth proof.Simone had organised the pack so well that within only a couple of days there was a stack of disassembled boxes outside and nearly everything had found a place in our new home together. It was truly remarkable how similar our tastes were and we lay together on the couch that night with the fire on and marveled at just how in tune everything was.
In the middle of the unpacking we had another big moment to deal with. The day after the truck arrived Liam started school in Haddington. He’d visited the school a couple of times in the last year and had been really positive and excited about starting there. We’d managed to get his uniform together the previous weekend and everything was prepared for the big day. The last time I’d done a school run was about ten years ago when I used to drop Taz off and the prospect of early rises I probably found as much daunting as Liam starting his new school. I do not do mornings well and with a similarly gened daughter I only had memories of silent, moody journeys in perpetual darkness from my previous experiences. Luckily I’ve found Liam to be a cheery chappie of a morning and his good moods infectious. I offered to be designated driver as Simone wasn’t confident of UK roads yet but after a few days I was finding it easy. Rediscovering mornings was interesting. Greeting Elspeth and Rab in something other than a dressing gown was new as was realising mid afternoon that it wasn’t early evening and there were a lot more hours in the working day. Needless to say I was finding myself turning into bed a lot earlier. My i phone now had a sequence of alarms programmed.One to wake me up to rouse Liam at 7.30, one at 8 to rouse me again to shower and dress for an 8.30 leave and the other at 3.45 to remind me to pick him up at school ( 12 on a Friday). He had a great first day and a sigh of relief was to be audibly heard at the kitchen table when we returned. It was vitally important for us all that Liam managed to transpose himself into a Scottish school and fit into a completely new system and environment. After the first week he was doing brilliantly with no problems and Simone and I were so proud of him. No complaints, no issues, no severe language difficulties he was the wee man.
Saturday was the next big milestone when Simone and I went into HSBC in Princes Street in Edinburgh to open up a joint account to deal with our domestic and personal needs. A young Polish girl took us into a soulless cubicle, one of many in a clinical white room on the first floor of what was the flagship bank with stunning views across to the Gardens and the castle. She was very friendly and efficient and took us through the entire process, turning the screen and keyboard around so we could input some of our details ourselves. It was quite frankly depressing and annoying and I remembered fondly my old local bank manager in Dalkeith when I was a kid who knew everyone in the town and his customers inside out. Despite having 3 business accounts there for many years I still had to take in my passport, proof of residence and other ID and go through all the questions the most ridiculous of which was after I’d given my occupation as singer / songwriter – “And how many hours a week do you work?”. I had to give an answer as “computer says” I had to. I said 40 which was the answer I should have given to my doctor when he asked me about how many units of alcohol I drank a week. The coffee I’d had at the beginning of the process added to the couple I’d had earlier and I asked if I could use their men’s room. “I’m sorry but we only have a staff toilet but there’s one in Costa Coffee just round the corner”. And that is where I went as Simone went through her conversation with the computer before returning to go through all the online banking passwords/ security questions/ log in codes that I’m not supposed to write down and for the life of me I know I’ll never remember if I don’t. It was a thoroughly dehumanising process and followed up with the usual “sincere welcome to our bank” paperwork handed to us just as we left. I don’t blame the young lady in the slightest, she was just doing her job and she was thoroughly pleasant. It’s only a matter of time until they get rid of her in favour of a new more efficient computer interface. Then they can create more room by getting rid of the staff toilet as well.
That evening we had visitors as Tom and his wife Jima were driving up from Lichfield to pick up the couches they’d bought from us after I’d put them up for sale on the Facebook pages months before. The extended return from Germany and availabilities had meant that this was the only weekend of opportunity and as they were driving a long way we had offered for them to have dinner and stay over here at the Studio. They arrived late afternoon and with Rab and a mate at hand we loaded up his Luton before we opened our first of many bottles of wine that night. They were great company and Tom’s Thai wife Jima passed on a couple of great cooking tips for our chili harvest. A beef Madras was fare of the evening and we stayed up a lot later than planned chewing the fat into the edge of the small hours. Simone and I had another big day ahead as Taz was arriving with Romaine and I was picking up my Mum from North Berwick as she hadn’t been up for a while and this was the first chance she had to see our new home.It was a fine gathering and Simone and I teamed up in the kitchen to put together a Sunday roast for us all. My mum was overjoyed to see the house and so happy that we had finally managed to be together. Romaine and Taz were staying the night as he was working with me next day and Taz was tidying up her room and getting stuff together for her trip to France where it looked like she could be out there for the next 3 months. Her caravan of belongings were dispersing between Lyon, Edinburgh and here and as my daughter has the same collective tendencies as I have little was being jettisoned. I was glad I’d rented the container as we needed to clear her room out for the procession of visitors we are expecting over the coming months including Simone’s daughter Tara in November, her mother and partner over Christmas as well as Steve Vantsis and other writers on album duty.
On Sunday after dinner Romain had set up the new Yamaha piano I’d bought for the writing sessions. Nothing too special but it has great basic sounds and weighted keys and is enough for what we need for the approach I want for the new album. Romain and I would work over the next 2 days and our fledgling writing sessions proved very interesting. I’ll deal with all things ‘Weltschmerz” in another blog that will take in the new ideas and projects I’m starting working on.
It was great having Taz and Romain at the house with us for a couple of days and watching them get ever closer. Taz is still getting used to our new set up here and it’s probably as disorientating as it is for Liam just now. We are all growing up and older and both Simone and I are watching our children go out and find new experiences in the World. Taz is off to France for 3 months, Tara, Simone’s eldest daughter is just coming back from 2 months coaching windsurfing in Fuerteventura before continuing university in Karlsruhe and Mona her younger daughter is heading to Sri Lanka and Australia for 6 months traveling in November. We both miss our kids badly but thanks to technology we are never out of touch no matter where they are out there. One day we hope we will get all the children here together for at least a long weekend and bring all the family together in our new home.
For the first couple of weeks it was strange not having to think about checking in online for flights and realising that we’d finally made it. Waking up in the same bed every day without having to think about trains or planes was wonderful. The garden is our mutual love and it’s been so gratifying heading out to the garden to forage for vegetables and fruit to bring into the kitchen where we both share cooking duties. We are finding a beautiful balance in the house although I have to admit it’s weird having things done or me. I’ve been so used to doing my own laundry and cooking and cleaning for such a long time here that I feel a bit guilty taking a step back. We are making a great team and getting stronger every day. Simone is now driving and helping Elspeth in the office while I find myself back on a keyboard and putting cunning plans in motion in the control room in between our mutual gardening activities. Touring is the last thing in my head just now and we are just enjoying being here and together.
And that’s the story of our summer so far.
I’m off to Germany on Friday for rehearsals in Durlach with the pick up band for the festival in Pratteln in Switzerland on Sunday. It’s going to be weird as it will be the first time I’m there without Simone with no Balcony and thinking about getting home as quickly as possible. It’s taken nearly 6 years to get this far and although we always dreamed and hoped it would happen the reality is truly something special and we are looking forward to many happy years together here at the farm in our little slice of paradise with many more summers to come – although preferably a little less hectic.