“I get around” , sang some Beach Boy or other back in the day, and that’s something I can relate too. This weekend was…..interesting. One of my bands, Bootleg Counterfeit Sweet (formerly BC Sweet) was back in Germany for the first time in a long while, and me and the guys were looking forward to it.
Our first clue that things might not run smoothly reared its head some weeks back, when we discovered the show was being advertised under our old name of BC Sweet, a moniker which, due to our refusal to line the pockets of any more lawyers is now put to bed. The new name reflects, if nothing else, some heavy irony….but that’s a whole other lawsuit….er, story.
Anyway, we got in touch with them expressing our dismay, and implied that we would pull the show if we weren’t advertised correctly. We specifically make clear in all contracts how we should be billed. There’s simply nothing more you can do in these situations. Well, everything seemed to calm down, so come Friday, I dutifully arose at the crack of dawn, dawn in this particular instance going by the name of 7.30 am, and made the two and a half hour drive to Alicante to get my flight to Berlin. I arrived in good time, strolling into the Airport at 11.30, my flight due to leave at 1pm. I scanned the departure screens….to no avail. No flight was advertised for Berlin anywhere near the appointed time. As luck would have it, the AirBerlin information desk was situated adjacent to this, your humble and now visibly palpitating writer. The lady manning the desk braced herself to receive the full force of “Kev in Panic Mode”, as I stammered something to the effect of “w-w-w-wwhere’s my flight? – it’s disappeared!”
Motioning for me to produce my booking reference, her fingers danced across the computer keyboard while mine drummed out paradiddles of pensiveness in concert with her on the counter. With a flourish, our performance drew to a close, she fixed me with a gaze of undeniable finality and delivered three announcements that might as well have been bullets:
“The Berlin flight was changed. You should have been informed. It left at 11 o’clock. “
I had barely time to ingest and process this triad of bombshells before she surged on, relentless:
“And not only that. Your return flight on Sunday has changed also.”
It transpired that I would land in Alicante a full three and a quarter hours earlier on the Sunday than I first thought, being routed via Palma instead of Dusseldorf. “Oh well, every cloud” I thought, temporarily oblivious to the fact that I had yet to find a way to leave Spain, never mind return.
My AirBerlin saviour’s fingers were already dancing again, however, and her face was a picture as it ran the gamut of expressions, through hope, expectancy, frustration, despair, and so on ad infinitum. She helpfully provided a running commentary to accompany her admittedly riveting gurning.
“Ah, so…ve can take you via Palma….ach nein! es ist voll….there is even no Air Berlin personnel we can remove for you…”
It suddenly dawned on me as she meandered through cyberspace looking for empty seats, that they didn’t actually have to do a damned thing. It was pretty clear that air berlin had almost certainly sent an email to the promoter informing him of the flight changes. They had clearly assumed it was just a confirmation of what they already knew. Except it wasn’t. Thirty odd years of international travel in bands has taught me that, if there is a possibility for something to cock up, then cock up it most assuredly will. And here was Miss Air Berlin, quite prepared to give her fellow workers the heave-ho off a flight in order to get me to me destination. “As long as it’s not the pilot, I suddenly thought, worriedly….”
Finally, and almost apologetically, she announced:
“Well, I can put you on a flight to Munich that leaves at 2.30 pm, but your connection to Berlin means you won’t arrive at your destination until 8pm.”
My original, and now patently useless itinerary had me setting foot on Berlin soil around 4pm, but fortuitously, I assured her, my colleagues in the band were arriving from England around 8pm also, and so that would be just dandy, vielen danke! Well, her little face lit up and she went on to tell me that she had also arranged for my passage home via Palma on the Sunday. So, Palma Sunday coming a little later than Easter for me this year. Not only that, I had the VIP lane option upon arriving in Munich, to smooth things along, so to speak. Just for the record: Air Berlin rocks!
Now, prior to boarding anything, I made several calls. One to the carpark, so they knew to get me at 4 on Sunday and not 7, and one to Marc, our bandleader, to inform him of my rescheduling. He gave me my driver’s number, and I texted him to tell him of my new arrival time. So I landed in Berlin fully confident our problems were behind us……
‘My’ driver, Karsten, turned out to be ‘Our’ driver, as I quickly discovered, following collecting me in what looked suspiciously like a builder’s van, as we made our way across Berlin from Tegel (my airport) to Schoenefeld (their airport). Karsten informed me that we had ‘about 300 kilometers to drive to Wolgast.” This of course set me thinking. What if I’d arrived at 4pm? It occurred to me that I would have been kicking my heels for 4 hours waiting for the others to arrive anyway.
Anyway, the lads were patiently waiting in the cafe, and we all piled back in the builder’s van and hit the Autobahn, driving into what used to be East Germany. By that I mean, it’s no longer East Germany, the country, but it exhibits many of its communist traits, such as no amenities. Some time into the journey, we asked Karsten if we might stop at a motorway services to grab a snack and a coffee.
“Why yes!” he said jovially, “In fact it is the ONLY service station between here and Wolgast, we are in the East now!”
Well, we all had a jolly good laugh about that, as I availed myself of a curiously Franco-Prussian snack that appeared to be a perfectly serviceable croissant that had been raped by a bratwurst.
It can only have been another 20 kilometers or so down the road when Teutonic mutterings started emanating from Karsten’s mouth, accompanied by the occasional worried glance at the fuel gauge. After several unsuccessful attempts to engage him in conversation, and a further 20 or 30 kilometers, he finally volunteered some rather startling information. We were running out of fuel.
General weariness and a desire to get to bed prompted me to announce: “If we run out of fuel, you will be getting us a hotel or a taxi, whichever comes first. I’m not up for freezing our nuts off in subzero temperatures for the night waiting for some bloody farmer to turn up in the morning.” We exited the dark and empty motorway at the next available opportunity, which delivered us into some dark and empty farmland. The one town we did find was pretty much empty. Karsten ventured that this was probably due to the gang fight there the previous evening which had resulted in multiple arrests. Evidently they must have arrested the proprietor of the local petrol station, because it was closed.
However, there was a group of rather lost looking individuals gathered around under the ailing neon lights on the forecourt. God knows why. If this is what passes for a party around here, then they need to legalize drugs. Somehow Karsten managed to convince one of them to get into his car, and we followed him into the night, across some disused railway tracks, down a potholed lane into the middle of nowhere….and there, in exactly the middle of nowhere, was a single, solitary petrol pump with an automat. Never let it be said that the Germans have no sense of humour.
When we finally reached Wolgast (it was now the following day) the need to tarmac the roads seemed to desert them, and our last 500 yards were so rough it would have been ruled out as a suitable site for a moon landing. Nevertheless, we had arrived at our hotel, and, apparently, our gig. For there in the compact and bijou bar area was a small stage with a backline that made a Sony walkman look impressive. We were given schnitzels, lots of them, as the reality of the situation began to sink in..it wasn’t long before I decided I was better off in bed.
The next morning, I headed downstairs to check it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t. There were the tiny amps, staring at me balefully, as if daring me to defile them with a power chord. I defiled the cornflakes instead, along with a few other comestibles as we had the slightly surreal experience of eating our breakfast in front of the stage we were to be performing on later that evening. I thought it wise to eat all the bread rolls, in case anyone wanted to start throwing them later.
Looking around the vestibule, I noticed a small poster advertising the show which looked familiar to me, but for a strange reason. It featured a piece of artwork by my partner Miki, of our band. (See top of article) Now, we don’t use this piece of art in our publicity, and it’s not supposed to be reproduced by anyone without permission, (she wasn’t even credited on the poster!) but that didn’t seem to bother our mate the promoter, who’d also used the old BC Sweet logo against our express wishes. (I’ve changed it on here) To compound matters, I saw at least one more poster about the size of a small bus on the outskirts of town too. So, clearly some fell on stoney ground then….
That afternoon, Mike, Marc, Pete and myself convened in the gig/breakfast room to run through a couple of songs and see if we could get some kind of sound out of the equipment. After an hour or so we had a passable sound, given the limitations, and we declared ourselves able to gig.
Cut to 8pm, and a room full of eager German punters, as the strains of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” theme fade and Pete counts us into ‘Action’. The mics aren’t working. At all. The first verse grinds to a halt and instead of greeting the audience, at only a minute into the show, I’m apologizing to them. Marc disappears offstage to consult with whoever is looking at the mixer like it’s an alien, and Mike, Pete and myself entertain the crowd with an impromptu 3 piece blues jam that lasts 5 minutes but feels like a lifetime.
We start again. And an entertaining game of ‘musical mics’ begins as, during a second attempt at ‘Action’, Marc, Mike and I juggle the mics around between us to see if any actually work. They don’t, and a smell of burning wiring signals the end of this particular attempt to entertain the Germans. The mixer has exploded. Detleff, the guy who brought us over in the first place, is looking seriously harried, as well he might. Trying to get away with using ‘My mum’s PA system’ for a grown-up rock band is always going to leave you in a heap of scheisse.
Nevertheless, against all the odds, he disappeared into the night and returned with a replacement. I have no idea where he got it, or how. There’s probably a dead sound engineer lying in a ditch somewhere near the Polish border. Take three, and off we go! It’s still bloody awful, but the crowd, sensing we’re really up against it, seem to take to these four idiotic blokes who don’t know when they’re beaten. At one point, I moved away from the mic, and screamed the vocal at the audience, complete with expletives, just to get it out of my system. They loved it. They like a good shout, the Germans. Against all the odds, the evening was success. The meal we were expecting following the gig, less so. It took us half an hour to locate it. Apparently it had been waiting on a kitchen table in a hidden room somewhere and consisted on schnitzel, in a bun. It seems that, around these parts, the answer is schnitzel, regardless of the question.
Now, I was the only one who could remotely string a German sentence together, so I was charged with the task of making sure the promoter knew that I had to be on the road at 7am in the morning, other wise I would miss my rescheduled flight. This proved confusing, when another guy called George, who I’d never seen before, and who was pissed, insisted he was driving me to Berlin in the morning. Thankfully, before I retired to my room for a bit of kip, it was established that, for reasons best known to himself, this was a lie.
The next morning, as the clock struck 7 am exactly, Detleff and I were sat in the drive thru lane at the local McDonalds waiting for the shutters to open. He treated me to an Egg McMuffin, and we hit the road. how the other half live, eh?
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….where to begin? From my own perspective, (and I’m honest enough to admit that, although I’m still enjoying a reasonable career in music, it comes with a liberal helping of sour grapes), it really doesn’t look good. I can deal with very talented people reaping rich rewards. I can even deal with people going off the rails. I can’t deal with mediocre talent reaping vast riches, but that’s another issue. But Amy Winehouse…..personally, I don’t see what all the fuss was about when she could stand up and bash out a tune, never mind when she totters about like a semi-comatose junkie, mumbling like she’s had a lobotomy. (I’m assuming she hasn’t actually had one, but who knows what the current fashions are?) However, I will concede that some people liked the music she was evidently propped up to churn out in the first place. But her recent debacle in Eastern Europe is an affront to any professional musician, and an insult to the poor (and bad judges of character) schmucks who coughed up a week’s wage to see her embarrass herself, her band, and the profession in general. Put simply, it is a lack of respect. Respect for her band-mates, her public, but ultimately, herself. She should go away, flip burgers and get some help, instead of charging money for the rest of us to witness the unedifying spectacle of a lucky chanter who no longer knows her arse from her elbow.