Well well well, this one may be a bit of en epic! The first four-gig weekend since our visit to Turkey in February 2008 would take us from Southampton to Birmingham via Wales and Kettering. A fair few miles then!
The weekend started for me with a gig in Shoreditch at the 'legendary' BarMusicHall on Curtain Street, just up the road from Old Street tube station playing an acoustic set with Thea Ford and Mark O'Neill. I love playing original music, but there's nothing quite like wigging up and being part of the best tribute to Iron Maiden there ever was. I was on a tight schedule, as the Van of Slightly Less Comfort But Much More Likely To Start Than The Last One was due to arrive at mine between 10 and 11pm. We went on a little bit late but I managed to do a runner and arrive back at Manic Towers just after the two occupants of said van.
I walked into the dining room to find Adrian "shit in a bin" Swift adding the final touches to his rather nifty (and not at all camp) denim jacket, studded up to look just like Adrian Smith's did during Maiden's golden period. Accompanying him was Bruce "show us yer funnel!" Dugginson who was very proudly showing off his new leather gear, crafted by Boba Fett off the forums. A bang-up job he did too, as they looked just like Bruce's rather peculiar fetish gear from the '88 tour. This had been picked up on the way, and I understood from talking to the lads that the journey from Yorkshire to Dartford had taken them via Barnsley and Essex to name but a few places. There was a reason for all this malarkey, but we'll get to that later. We all settled down for a bit of much-needed kip.
Next morning, Duggers finds a hat!
The next morning started off with a brief shopping trip looking to find some stage gear for Hulloween's debut performances. Yes, that's right - Hi-On Maiden are Hulloween. The plan was to unveil Hulloween in Pontypool and Kettering before opening the Music Live "Titans of Tribute" stage at the Birmingham NEC. More on that when we get to it. After a more-or-less successful jaunt to the shops we piled in the van and drove to Reading, where a very nice man had some scaffolding bits and pieces to sell us. Upon arrival, he also agreed to cut down the scaffold poles (collected by Swifty and Duggers in Barnsley the day before) so that they were all of equal length. This was a bit of a relief, as none of us really wanted to muck about with an angle grinder at the venue! "Why the scaffolding?" I hear you cry. Well, faithful reader, you'll see. After all this tubular trickery had clanged to it's conclusion, we set off for Southampton. We arrived a little later than planned, but this was no problem as we'd saved ourselves a couple of tricky hours of cutting poles!
Speed "I love smelly farts - they've got to sound good, and they've got to smell good - you've got to squeeze them out" Harris was already in attendance as we rolled up to the back door. The scaffolding and gear was shifted out the van and I ran off to find a sandwich - having elected not to eat breakfast that morning, I was utterly starving. Putting the scaffolding together for the very first time can only be described as a ballache. I'm utterly useless at such things, and as such sat on the sideline waiting for any heavy lifting that needed doing! Still, once you've set it up once you know where everything goes and what the pitfalls are. Next time would be quicker and less painful. The brand new backdrop was unrolled and hung from the ceiling, turning out to be almost perfect-width for The Brook. The "Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour" stage set was done. And it look bloody spectacular. As this was going up, Jonno "sex pest coat" Lodge turned up. Jonno, star that he is, was filling in for Nicko "oh no!" McBrain Jnr who was out playing with his original band this weekend.
Soundchecking with the title track from Iron Maiden's 1988 opus was a lot of fun. It's one of those songs we've talked about doing for years but never actually attempted, at least not properly. A little bit shaky in places but otherwise successful. We also had a blast through the Hulloween stuff and identified where Swifty and I needed to work on harmonies. I actually enjoyed playing Helloween stuff much more than I thought I would. I'll admit I'm not their biggest fan, but the songs we had chosen were a lot of fun to chock out.
Then it was spandex time! I bought this stage gear over a year ago when we were planning a "Somewhere On Tour" tribute show. Thankfully Mr Murray's outfit didn't change much for the next tour so it was still a valid expenditure. The rest of the band followed suit, as it were, with Mr Dugginson's trousers in particular looking rather fetching. Aieeee!
All in all it was a storming gig. Duggers and I had to entertain with an impromptu 'Children Of The Damned' when Swifty's MIDI gear took a waspie, but that aside all ran to plan. There were a couple of Brown Notes in Seventh Son, but nothing too derailing. The crowd were a fantastic bunch as ever, with some good friends making the trip down. The first of three appearances from our good friend Eddie "spandex, chaps?" the 'Ead, who was making a particularly heroic effort (along with Mrs Eddie and Lord Summerisle) to get to three of our four shows.
Packing down after the show was a typically leisurely affair, with the kind and generous staff at The Brook being as kind and generous as ever. However, there comes a time when one ought to pack one's gear up and fuck off! Which we did. Back to the Travelodge and onto the Manic Cushion (those little triangular cushions at the back of the sofas) for me. Conversation turned to the past, and some revelations about a previous acquaintance were particularly enlightening. I should probably leave it there!
Up earlyish for a Little Thief breakfast before I climbed into the SpeedWagon for the jaunt down to Pontypool. En route we swotted up on our Helloween, listening to both Keeper of the Seven Keys albums and their live set from Donington '88. It seems Helloween were a bit messy that day, which was good news for me as I was fretting slightly (pun intended) about those guitar parts.
Arriving in Ponty in the rain, we loaded in and grabbed a drink or two while poor Mr Lodge had a bit of kip. After the show tonight he was going to need to pack up, drive home to Stafford, sleep, drive to Birmingham, unload, play, load, and drive to Kettering for our next gig! Needless to say we praise his heroism this weekend - we simply couldn't do it without ya mate. After setting up and imbibing Mr Swift and I worked out the intricacies of the guitar harmonies and we had a go at the Helloween tunes - tonight was do or die, as we'd been advertised as the support band! Thankfully someone else was on hand to warm up the crowd before us in the form of Cowboy & The Corpse, a well-received local covers band.
Hulloween hit the stage! It was very enjoyable indeed, and not half bad. There were a couple of song requests from the crowd to deal with, but thankfully they were amongst the four songs we'd learned anyway! Mr Dugginson did a particularly awesome job as Michael Krispe in a wig that, after the weekend, would be donated to me as it was viewed as a more suitable Murray-a-like than Brenda. Splendid! After the Hulloween set it was time to cast aside German power metal and slip into Noooowobbham (that's NWOBHM to you). Once again, another fantastic crowd. With four gigs this weekend, it's hard to pick out highlights / lowlights from the lot, especially considering that the first three were an identical set. I remember another few Brown Notes appearing in Seventh Son, but once again it was met with a roaring reception. Jonno packed down, said his goodbyes and pootled off for home, while the rest of us retired to the bar. That's where it all went a teensy bit wrong.
Let me preface this by proffering some advice: If a Welsh barkeep ever offers you a tot from a bottle of vodka with chillies stuffed in it, kindly decline and then get as far away as you can.
The afore-mentioned offensive weapon was passed in front of my face, to which I immediately said no. It's not like me to refuse a drink (as anyone who knows me will tell you!). However, I knew this to be Wrong. Deeply, deeply wrong. So I continued to pack down my gear and sup my Guinness. While I was off somewhere else, the bottle had been offered to Swifty and Dugginson. Duggers' portion was abruptly removed from his hand by the bartender, who warned him against it - apparently, it was no good for the singing voice. Swifty merrily threw his measure right down his gullet, and then stood there in silent horror as tears ran down his cheek. Mission accomplished, thought the barman. To whit, he turned his attentions back to me. A glass with a trickle of the vile death syrup was placed in front of me at the bar. I refused again, and would have continued to do so had Mr Dugginson not come round to me. "Try it Manic, it's really nice!" said he. Had it been Swifty, I would have not believed him. Had it been Speed, I would have not believed him. Yet I still had some trust for our singer. So down it went.
At first, it was like a rather hot curry. That's fine, I thought. I enjoy a curry that leaves your lips burning. However as it trickled down my throat and made it's way through the rest of my innards, I suddenly felt as if I'd eaten a hand grenade. Roughly thirty seconds later, that hand grenade had been upgraded to a land mine. "GET IT OUT OF ME!", my body screamed, and as such I legged it up to the backstage toilet and attempted to expel the horror. Unfortunately there was no action to be had at either end, and as such I simply balled up and steeled myself. I didn't cry, but I did scream! I suffer from Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, which essentially means I create excess stomach acid and I shouldn't eat anything too spicy. You can imagine that my pain was greater than someone who did not suffer from such an affliction. Eventually Swifty and Matt came looking for me, wondering where I'd gone. They found me in the foetal position! Thankfully the agony didn't last much longer than 10-15 minutes, but the effects would last for some time. I managed to get another Guinness down my neck before calling it a night. I had enough good humour to hide Swifty's pillow and convince him that a poltergeist had nicked it. Oh, the chuckles.
Up in the morning, lamenting the spicy spirit, the three of us that remained loaded out the gear. Speed had already raced off to Kidderminster to see his family. After bidding a fond farewell to all at the Hog we hit the road for Kettering. A bit more Hulloween revision took place while we kept our eye out for the welcoming beacon of KFC. No spicy food for us for a while! We checked in at the Travelodge and made our way to the venue, soundtracked by a bit of Kate Rusby. Lovely!
Hope you're paying attention, Asbury...
Kettering was pretty good. When you have four gigs in as many days, they all tend to blur into one. Hulloween was well received to my memory, though Speed wasn't happy with his performance. The whole thing came off fine and we were fairly confident of doing a good enough job at the NEC the next morning. Hi-On put in their best performance of the weekend thus far, despite poor old Swifty not being able to hear himself onstage at all and my guitar cable being unexpectedly ejaculated from the front of my pre-amp.
The real drama started, as ever, after the gig. Mr Dugginson found a rather amusing Halloween costume which seemed to depict the demise of the Daily Express's favourite maternal figurehead, while Jonno took great joy in noting the similarities between me and "Scott The Rapist", a character adorning the walls of a quite impressively graffiti-laden dressing room.
"Oh! If only Diana was here..."
Knowing we had an early morning start, we packed down with unusual tenacity and the time came to get stuff in the van. Unfortunately, Doctor Swift could not quite locate the van keys. This happened last time at Sawyers, so we turfed out the dressing room where they'd turned up last time. No sign. We combed the debris on stage right. No sign. I was the last man in the van, and while I couldn't recall giving the keys back to Swifty I knew that I had definitely not shut them in the van. I searched my pockets three times, my side of the stage, my bags (twice), and still there was no sign. Even the venue staff joined the hunt, relishing in the idiocy of a band who, let's be honest, couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. Swifty checked his pockets at least four times, and there was no sign.
Fifth time was the charm.
They were in his jacket pocket the whole time, caught in headphones or something equally innocuous.
Once we'd all beaten him senseless, we piled him bloodied and broken behind the wheel of the van and we limped back to the Travelodge. Duggers was in an understandably black mood, having been looking forward to a good night's sleep before showcasing his awesome vocal talents in front of what was bound to be a large crowd. Speed had gone back to Kiddy, and after dropping our singer at the 'lodge Swifty and I ventured off in search of Ginsters. Returning with snacks we were greeted with the news that Speed was currently racing back home to attend to a family emergency. I won't go into the details in this diary, but our thoughts were all with him and his family.
In the morning, we accepted the state of play that Hulloween would not be opening Titans Of Tribute after all, as we had to focus all our energies on locating a bass player for the headline slot. Rescue was found in the form of Kev, the bass player with Yorkshire-based Iron Maiden tribute Iron-On Maiden. Kev put down his breakfast and raced up the motorway. What a hero!
Our next slap in the face came upon arrival at the NEC. Apparently we weren't allowed to use the stage set that we'd splashed out on. Change-over times didn't allow. Bugger.
At least Southampton got a show!
We took this in our stride as just another piece of bad luck in a year that, for Hi-On, has been riddled with epic failures. We can only hope for better in 2010. After loading all the gear into the backstage area and explaining our predicament to the very understanding organisers, I wandered off with my good friend Eddie's Mum for a look round the exhibition. There was some fantastic gear to be had, and I had to literally tear myself away from the Patrick Eggle stand. I ended up buying some rather silly instruments from Kid's Play music for my nephew. You can give a four month-old a kazoo, can't you? Oh well. He won't know. I returned to our dressing room to find free beer and food. This made me a very happy Hurry. While we munched we were interviewed by Phoenix Radio, a local radio station who were covering the event. Around this time Kev arrived and was greeted as a true hero.
Then it was time to get ready. Time had rolled around ever so fast! The job was to put our gear together so it could simply be rolled onstage by the tech guys, gaffa'd down and ready to go. This was quite an experience - a huge stage, a load of techies doing stuff all around you...it was like being in a proper band playing a proper gig! Fantastic. The intro rolled...
Onstage at the NEC...
...what a gig! Thoroughly enjoyable, with a huge crowd giving it as much vocal as they could and awesome performances from the whole band. During The Trooper we were joined onstage by session drummer extraordinaire Robin Guy, who has played with none other than Bruce Dickinson, Faith No More, Dee Snider, All About Eve and many others. I remember moseying up to him during the previous song (The Prisoner, I think?) and watching him waiting behind Jonno's kit going absolutely mental - he was like a kid at Christmas!!! I couldn't wait. It was awesome to have him join us. Robin, if you're reading this, get in touch - any time we're in the same place, you're welcome to join us again! The rest of the gig went off well, with Eddie putting in a typically spectacular performance. I'll never quite forget him giving the finger to the "Time up!" screen at the side of the stage!
Once the gear was offstage we had to be out sharpish as there was a whole evening of music to be played after the Titans were done laying waste to Brum. After loading the van and saying goodbyes to the band, I ventured to the nearby Wetherspoons to spend some quality time with some great friends who had come along for the ride - brilliant to see you all guys. The whole weekend had been both physically and emotionally draining. We had put in four great gigs, six if you count Hulloween's two shows, and done our job to the best of our abilities in challenging circumstances. And what more could you ask for?
Certainly no bloody chilli vodka.
Thanks again to everyone who aided with the weekend; special mentions for Jonno Lodge and Kev from Iron On for both getting us out of tight spots - you're both utterly tremendous as musicians and people. Also thanks to all the staff at all the venues for making things as smooth as they possibly could be. Huge thanks to all the friends who came out to see us on this mini-tour, your support is appreciated and will not be forgotten!
Personal thanks from me go to the rest of Hi-On Maiden. Bruce Dugginson for simply being the best. Adrian Swift for working so hard to make this year happen in the face of everything that went wrong. Speed Harris for being Steve Harris (though I should point out he needs to change his diet - the rippers experienced in the van to Nijmegen were from the very arse of Beelzebub). Nicko McBrain Jnr for his youthful enthusiasm and for missing more load-outs than I thought possible!
UP THE 'KIN IRONS!
Dave "don't drink the chilli vodka" Hurry