Tuesday 18 October 2016

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - New Morning, Paris - 16 October 2016

Social commentary, I'm sure.

The Need were off to Paris!  It was the most local of our gigs so far, and it was rather nice not to have to negotiate an early start at the airport.  I reached St. Pancras International at a relatively palatable 10:00 a.m., happy not to be lugging a heavy flight case around with me.  A flight-case is a must for flying with instruments; train travel is a different matter.  My trusty Juno-DI was in its lovely, soft, cushioned gig bag along with all its cables and pedals and such.  Hooray.  

The train was going so fast, the outside looked like broccoli in a blender.

I met Tom “the toilet isn’t in the right place” Sullivan in the Eurostar ticket hall, closely followed by the other two reprobates.  I needed a coffee, and Rich “I was basically his poon squire” Pecks needed a ‘sit down’.  I’d finished my disappointing coffee, complaining that they’d put steamed frothy fail-milk in it against my wishes.  Pecks had a complaint of his own; there had apparently been no lock on the cubicle door (“By the time the third person tried to come in, I just let ‘em have it!”). 

The train pulled out of the station for the 2 1/4 hour journey to Gare Du Nord.  The boys spent most of the journey talking about taxes and accountants; I spent most of it drinking Sauvignon blanc.  Pecks told me that he’d read my Sweden gig diary, and that he and his good lady had very much enjoyed the tale of the Great Stockholm Banana Bomb.  However, it did give him something of a personal revelation; he realised that he’d basically done the same thing in Munich.  Apparently, at half-time, he had gotten over-excited and chucked a banana out the window of the dressing room!  Something about the interval in this particular show seems to make him want to lob fruit about.  We’re going to have to start locking it all down.

A brand new Ampeg!  It didn't work...

Upon arrival in Paris, we found our way to the Best Western Aulivia Opera hotel which was located on a quiet side-street not far from the Boulevard de Magenta.  We didn’t have far to go to the venue; it was across the road and along a bit (“You go right straight through this door here, down the hall.......turn right...…and then there's a little jog there, about thirty feet…”).  The New Morning club was a nice-sized room, which we quickly learned had sold out.  Ali “Boys, where’s the tequila?” Azimi arrived shortly after us, and we set about sound-checking.  Sound-check was a little bit difficult; the relatively small stage made it a tough job to balance the backline with the monitors, and it was going to be difficult for anyone to hear their vocals.  We made the best of it, though, and after getting our sound right we brought on our guest artists to play along with us and make sure they were happy on-stage.  We were to be joined by a whole host of guests for the last two songs of the night.  We were joined by members of the fantastic Manushan: Aida, Babak, and Habib (I really hope I'm getting names right here!), the latter of which provided some percussion on the album’s opening track.  We also had a small choir along for the ride! Very exciting, but lots of bodies on a small stage! 

The view from keyboard world.

Between sound-check and gig, Sully and Pecks high-tailed it back to the hotel while myself and Tom “please make ‘poon squire’ his nickname in the diary” Atherton chilled backstage.  We did try to get outside for some scram, but the sold-out crowd on their way in made that nigh-on impossible, so we had to beg the other two to bring us some food back!  Bless them, they came back with pizza for us.  Poor Athers had a bit of a tooth-ache, which we attempted to resolve with whisky and dessert wine.  I don’t think it helped…  There were lots of people backstage in a relatively small space, which made getting dressed for the gig interesting, although not as interesting as the improvised toilet facilities… ugh!  The walls were adorned with posters of past acts who had graced the stage, and these were not to be sniffed at - Nina Simone and Buddy Guy had both taken the stage here in the 80s, and Herbie Hancock had been here more recently.  Pecks was particularly excited about jazz guitar great John Scofield playing there a few days after us!

Bananas.  In a Pecks-proof wrapper.

The gig itself got off to a bit of a shaky start.  I think Ali was still struggling to hear himself singing, which is always a bit of a bugger, and there were a few mis-steps in the first couple of numbers.  It recovered nicely after that though.  I didn’t have the best first half, much like in Stockholm, but pulled it back for the second set.  I particularly enjoyed Enteghad (Complaint), which is a simple piano & vocal track at the beginning of the second half of the show. It’s always nice, but this time there was something a bit magic about it.  From then on, the band were on fire.  The crowd were with us the whole way, which carried us through the slightly ropey start and on to the triumphant end.  I write this having just seen a bit of video from the final song of the evening, and it’s HUGE.  Both Pecks and guest vocalist Aida were simply tearing it up.  Amazing. 

Just a few of us onstage, then!

We knew we had to get up for a ludicrously (well, 7:13 a.m.) early Eurostar back to London.  That, of course, didn’t stop us from getting on the need.  We found ourselves in Le Napoléon, a charming little bar at the end of the street, where we found a number of the audience and, later, all our fabulous guest musicians!  I got to meet Mohsen Namjoo, the featured guest vocalist on the studio version of set-closer Farda Soraghe Man Bia (Find Me Tomorrow), who was lovely and very generous with his praise for us.  The bar closed at 2am, but we weren’t done yet; I had been informed by the receptionist when checking into the hotel that, and I quote, “The bar never closes!”.  That turned out to be a bit of a lie - I’m pretty sure we were ejected from the bar about an hour later.  

Papped in the passport queue!

There barely seemed any point going to bed, but I did and managed to sleep through my alarm.  It took a banging on the wall from Pecks and Sully in the adjoining room to rouse me from my slumber.  We zombie-walked our way back to Gare Du Nord and through passport control to board the train.  I couldn’t sleep on the train, unlike the rest of the boys, but enjoyed watching the sun rise over northern France as we raced towards the mouth of the ‘Chunnel’.  

 Dreaming of blast beats

 Dreaming of the gym

 Dreaming of the perfect venue crapper

20 minutes of pitch-black tunnel sous la Manche and we were back in Blighty.  The boys went onward, while I decided to hide from the morning rush hour in a cafe near Kings Cross and have breakfast before heading back home. 

That’s pretty much the European tour over!  We do have a gig in the book for Barcelona in December, and a London date to be announced any day now, but the next you hear from me will be after (or maybe during) our tour of the U.S. and Canada.  I’m freaking excited!

Christopher “dreaming of keytars" Harrison

Saturday 15 October 2016

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - Cajsa Warg, Göteborg / Södra Teatern, Stockholm - 8 & 9 October 2016

Friday 7 October (Home - Premier Inn, Stansted Airport)

After a mad couple of weeks at work, I was very grateful to have had the Friday off.  I spent most of the day dozing in front of the TV until it was time to leave for the airport hotel.  The CoreyTaxi(tm) dropped me off at the Stansted Airport Premier Inn a little later than advertised, after we took something of a waspie; in my infinite wisdom, I had mistakenly directed us back onto the motorway, which resulted in us having to go 13 miles to the next junction just to come straight back.  Whoops!  If my Hi-on Maiden gig diaries prove anything, it’s that I should never be left in charge of navigation!

On arrival, I found Tom “E666 - the flavouring of the beast” Sullivan waiting outside.  He’d booked a table in the restaurant, bless him, so we went straight for dinner and some delicious need.  Sully reminisced about the band's previous trip to Sweden, while we tried to ignore the drunken Scotsmen a few tables away; they were friendly enough, but enormously loud.  To the extent that the Police were called!  After a few more glasses of vino collapso, we headed for bed.  

"It's MY bedside table!"

Saturday 8 October (Stansted - Göteborg)

Upon rising, we quickly discovered that getting to the airport via taxi was not an option - the journey was too short, so cab drivers either charge a small fortune for a ten minute journey, or balk at the idea altogether.  Thankfully, the hotel was served by a cheap shuttle bus, so off we went (after Sully spotted a mouse running about in the corridor - we’d better tell them about that!).  We arrived at the airport to find that Ali “sort your attitude out!” Azimi had beaten us to the airport!  He seemed very anxious and upset at the idea of being early; the polar opposite of the rest of us, who hate the idea of being late!  I picked up some duty free, reasoning that Swedish need was going to be rather expensive, and I’d be better off taking my own.  Ali had the same idea, and bought a bottle of Patron for the band.  I’m not the world’s biggest tequila fan, so I procured some whisky and Jaegermeister.  Lovely job.  

Infart.  Not what you want. 

On our way to the gate I spotted our drunken Scottish friends heading for Bratislava on what had to have been a stag do.  Good luck, Slovakia!  Getting on board was a bit of a clusterf***, as one has come to expect from RyanAir; loads of flights had been called at the same time, and the very small arse-end-of-the-airport waiting area we were sent to was heaving with passengers.  The queuing was very disorganised - terribly un-British.  

The ‘plane ride was relatively eventful.  The stranger to my right felt moved to turn around to the folks in the seats behind us and ask them to stop kicking his seat.  About 20 minutes later, Rich “sometimes I forget I’m naked” Pecks had the same issue, which was swiftly dealt with.  I’d love to say he Hulk-ed out on them, but sadly it was all very polite and reasonable.  More notable was our dearest Ali, who decided to get up out of his seat to muck about in the over-head locker just as the plane was about to start down the runway!  The head steward on the PA system didn’t sound particularly amused.  We all got some dirty looks from our fellow passengers, and as I got off the plane I got told off by the stewardess for Ali’s behaviour!  I must have had ’Responsible Adult’ written on my forehead…

Start as you need to go on...

We were met at Göteborg Airport by Sahar and a large, friendly welcoming party who had come along to drive us around.  We had opted to go straight to the venue for a sound-check before heading to the hotel for an afternoon nap.  The promoters had initially booked a large, seated theatre, but had taken the last-minute decision to move to a standing venue.  Both myself and Tom “Ray Winstone’s Geezer Histories” Atherton felt right at home at the Cajsa Warg sports bar; we’ve both spent most of our performing lives in rock bands playing in the corners of pubs and clubs.  It was a small stage, so there wouldn’t be much room for manoeuvre, but we knew it would be good night if the crowd was up for it.  

Same to you, pal!

After sound-check, we headed to the STF Göteborg City hotel, which was very comfy and well appointed, although I got the impression it must have been student digs at one point.  The muzak gently wafting down the corridors at all hours was a bit strange, and the room itself made me think of a sleeper carriage on a train.  True to Köln form, Pecks and Sully got their heads down while the remaining three of us went out to lunch.  We found John Scott’s Pub a short walk from the hotel and scoffed some lunch, washed down with a beer or two (why do other countries always feel the need to put the word ‘Pub’ after the name they’ve chosen for it? Answers on a postcard).  I had a lay down and a shower before getting ready to leave for the gig.  There was no dressing room at the bar, so we had all opted to get into our stage gear before leaving the hotel.  

Rocking out in the Time Vortex...

The gig itself was fantastic.  The crowd were completely and utterly with us.  ‘Donya Jaye Gozare’ (or ‘Cousin Song’, as we informally refer to it) was a particular highlight for me - it was just beautiful and, according to Athers, caused a few tears in the audience.  I worked the opening riff of The Hit Single into a piano solo at the start of the second set, which caused a deafening roar from the crowd; I’ll be keeping that little trick I think!  Before ‘Cheated’, Pecks had a quick word with the audience about the recent ‘Brexit’ vote and reminded them that nearly half of the country wanted to stay in the EU with them. The audience seemed to get where we were coming from and showed their support.  As I understand it, Sweden are more up for remaining part of the EU than ever before following our vote, so hopefully my country’s sickening display of nationalism has had at least some positive effect in other places.  “Hey you! Don’t tell me there’s no hope at all. Together we stand, divided we fall.” 

"Up The Arse Corner, with Ali Azimi & The Need"

We hung around for some beers at the venue, chatting to the incredibly cool and friendly punters, before heading back to the hotel.  The lovely English chap behind the desk pointed us in the direction of a fine kebab for dinner, which was swiftly consumed before bed.  It was going to be an early morning!

Sunday 9 October (Göteborg - Stockholm)

I was up at 7am having not really got my head down till 2am, so was feeling less than fresh.  I jumped in the shower, and headed down for breakfast.  My personal diary suggests that I was very excited about the buffet breakfast: it simply reads, “Meatballs for breakfast!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.   The coffee was excellent too.  

We boarded the train to travel the 300+ miles to Stockholm, with Atherton rocking an Opeth t-shirt in honour of our favourite Swedish prog-death-metal-ish-ers.  I genuinely love train travel.  It’s a smashing way to see a country.  Sweden was delightfully flat, autumnal, and lake-y.  Free coffee and breakfast came round, which was lovely but strange - an egg, rye bread, a piece of cheese, some yogurt, a mint chocolate, and a tube of… cod roe.  !  

We arrived into Stockholm and cabbed it to the Scandic Malmen hotel.  A couple of the organising folks were there to meet us, so we shot a short video for them to post to the inter-webs as some last-minute promo.  In short order two of our rooms were ready, so Atherton and I left the other three to nap while we went for a wander and a coffee.  I was fading fast, and probably wasn’t fantastic company, so we soon headed back to the hotel praying that a room was ready for us.  It was, and we both got our heads down for a couple of hours.  

Was this *THE* banana?

The venue was only a short walk away, although somehow we managed to let ourselves be led on a magical mystery tour of the backstreets of Stockholm carrying all our gear - not fun!  The Södra Teatern looked ace - a nice, big club room with an ace lighting rig, a hench P.A. and sound guys who really knew their job.  The sound on-stage was practically perfect straight away, bar the usual “Can I have a bit more of this in my monitor please”.  The sandwiches backstage were less practically perfect for poor Atherton, who had a rather violent reaction to the cream cheese in his chicken sandwich!  I thought I was a cheese wimp.  

The show looked and sounded absolutely fantastic, if the videos we’ve seen are anything to go by.  From our standpoint, the crowd were a little reserved during the first half.  The second half was a totally different story - I think Ali and Pecks managed to bully them into rocking out with us.  No second encore this evening, but a fine end to the show nonetheless.  

I got backstage to find that my beloved Marillion fleece-y thing had been covered in some foul-smelling yellow goo.  I must admit I got in a rather embarrassing rage about this, thinking a total stranger had been in our green room during the gig (not outside the realms of possibility - every time I went in there, there was someone I didn’t know or recognise in there).   Pecks arrived in the room and asked me if I was alright, to which I responded, “No, I’m not alright, some c*** has covered my hoodie in vom!”  He rather sheepishly admitted it had been him!  Pecks had apparently had a bit of a He-Man moment and thrown a banana at the wall, which then simply disintegrated and covered the table below - including my warm winter garment of choice - in deconstructed nana.  I immediately found the entire situation hilarious, but promised to get him back one day.  He’ll never see that banana coming…

Sully wasn’t feeling particularly well, so made his excuses and naffed off to bed.  After getting the gear back to the hotel, the rest of us went out to the reasonably close Indigo bar for some neeeeeeeeed.  I managed to polish off the best part of a bottle of wine before deciding to call it a night myself; I was running on fumes by this point.  Several nights in a row of poor sleep had started to take their toll.  I committed to book the airport taxi when I got back to the hotel, and said goodnight.  

Monday 10 October (Stockholm - Home)

I vaguely recall Atherton stumbling in about an hour after me, but I was pretty much out of it until the alarm went off.  I went for breakfast (no meatballs this morning - boo!), and noticed more huge tubes of fish paste.  Not my choice of spread!  We piled into the waiting taxi and made it to the airport in plenty of time to get some Plopp in, managing to fly back to London without event. 

I bloody love Sweden!  Paris next. 

Christopher “Ziltoid made me do it” Harrison

Monday 3 October 2016

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - Altes Pfandhaus, Köln / Feierwerk, München - 24 & 25 September 2016

Friday 23 September (Home - Bishop’s Stortford)

I always thought Bishop’s Stortford ought to be a type of cheese.   

(Forgive the slightly strange opening to this one.  I’ve never known how to start these things - Ed)

I’ve never known how to start these things. 

(You said that already - Ed)

The Ali Azimi & The Need European tour was due to start in Köln, and it was a rather early flight from Stansted.  Tom “raised by a pack of wild guide dogs” Sullivan and I had decided to book ourselves into cheap airport digs to avoid a stomach-churning early morning.  After work, I jumped in the DadTaxi (thanks, Dad!) and arrived at Bishop’s Stortford services somewhere between 8:30 and 9pm, sidling up to the hotel bar to find Sully gently nursing a beer.  Against our better judgement, a certain amount of need was consumed before trundling off to our slightly dingy room at the very arse-end of the Days Inn.  I didn’t know they still had smoking rooms in hotels; the smell reminded me of JBs in Dudley before the smoking ban came in.  Similar to that former bastion of Midlands rock, I suspected that the pong from years of fag smoke was hiding a multitude of nastier olfactory assaults, although admittedly there was no river of wee running out from the toilet door.  

Saturday 24 September (Bishop’s Stortford, Stansted Airport - Köln)

Sully used that Uber thing in the morning to get us to the airport.  So much for geo-location or whatever its called - the useless sod of a driver couldn’t find us!  We met the rest of the band (sans Ali “which one is the pink sausage?” Azimi, who was running a tad late), got our stuff checked in and got through security for a quick breakfast.  Ali caught up with us, presenting a bottle of Scotch he’d bought for the trip.  We made it to the plane, only to find that those lovely people at Ryan Air wouldn’t let Ali on board with his guitar without a fight.  This delayed him for quite some time - he ended up, essentially, having to buy a seat for it!  I honestly don’t think he’s happy unless he’s the very last one on the plane…

Sperrgepäck!  I had definitely päcked my sperrge...

The flight was quick and uneventful, and Köln airport must have been fairly unremarkable as I don’t remember a thing about it.  We jumped on the clean, half-empty train that left bang on time (imagine that!), and arrived in the centre of the old town shortly thereafter.  Rich “too rock and roll for his own pants” Pecks and Sully went off for a nap while the rest of us went in search of beer and sausage, as of course is tradition.  The ancient, Gothic cathedral we passed on the way was quite a sight.  Curry wurst was the order of the day, washed down with teeny tiny glasses of pilsner that didn’t stop coming.  Lovely.  After a short spell of kicking around in the hotel, it was time to naff off for sound check. 

The Altes Pfandhaus felt like a quiet TV studio or jazz club, and I think we were all a bit worried about our show being too beefy for such a soft, calm room.  We needn’t have worried, as is so often the case.  The space was lovely; audience on three sides, with a long floor space to use.  We sound-checked, and Ali was interviewed by local TV until doors opened.  We nipped backstage for a quick bite to eat before rolling the intro tape.  

The show was really good fun.  The house was packed, and there were clearly some big fans in the house; to my left I saw a few really enthusiastic chaps belting out practically every word.  We split the set in two with an interval.  The first half of the show is a little more serene than the second, which felt all the more serene with a seated audience.  However, once Ali and Sully got the audience on their feet for one of the Radio Tehran songs, the crowd really came alive.  There was a great feeling in the room after the show; I’ve never had so many photos taken with punters, and it was a rather odd feeling to be signing copies of an album I wasn’t on.  I’ll have to ask ‘Naughty’ Josh Trotter for a sample of his autograph.  

Ali was whisked off to a nightclub for an after-party, while his wonderful pal Derek helped the rest of us find a cab.  After arriving at the hotel, Sully decided he needed sleep and the rest of us decided we didn’t fancy a club, so me, Pecks, and Tom “eeeeeeeebah!” Atherton went back to the scene of lunchtime need for more pilsner that didn’t stop coming.  It’s always nice when someone just brings you beer, isn’t it?  I think we’d racked up 20 between us before calling it a night.  It was nice to spend some time getting to know Pecks. I’ve played music with Athers and Sully for years, so know them reasonably well; but, apart from (I think) one Carpathia rehearsal many moons ago, this is my first time making notes with the Romford He-Man himself.  He plays circles around basically every guitarist I’ve ever known, and is an absolute joy to be on the firm with.  He’s also very fond of a German döner kebab!

Sunday 25 September (Köln - München)

German nappies are weird...

Amazingly, we didn’t miss our morning train.  Perhaps we would have been better off waiting for the next one, though.  The first thing that went wrong was that the on-board coffee was utter dog water.  Then the train stopped still for 15 minutes.  Then it pulled forward about six inches.  Then it stopped for another 20 minutes.  The rear half of the train was apparently the problem.  By this point we had already missed our connection at Mannheim, but there was very little we could do about it.  Eventually the train got moving again, and we were all turfed off the back carriages at the next station to pile on to the front half.  This train stopped at plenty of airports, and practically everyone on board had luggage (or children) with them.  At one point we had to pile everything into the disabled bogs, which was one way of getting a seat as demonstrated by Sully…

"It's got a button that washes my trousers!"

We eventually arrived into Mannheim around an hour late, and managed to get on a train to München without too much drama (except for Ali disappearing unannounced, only to arrive with cheeseburgers for everyone just as the train appeared! Lovely man).  When we did finally find some seats we met some fine folks - Canadian Don from Edmonton and his lovely wife (whose name escapes me as a write this), and a fellow at our table who was writing an engineering textbook.  He was a clever one, taking time to chat to us about what he was doing, and to lament Brexit with us.  We pulled into München and piled into a cab to the Holiday Inn.  We didn’t have long in the room before we had to leave, and I enjoyed a cheeky stein while waiting for the lobby call.  

Ali Azimi and the Ned

I felt right at home in the Feierwerk, which was more or less your typical black-painted bar-at-the-back rock club.  Fu Manchu and Less Than Jake coming soon, loads of old battered gear that didn’t quite work but did if you beat them hard enough, that kind of place.  We had a fairly lengthy sound-check trying to get rid of this bit of feedback, that bit of feedback, and the other bit of feedback.  I’m not sure if EQ-ing monitor wedges is a thing, but the wedges at Feierwerk could do with a bit of it if it is!  The guitar amps gave Pecks a bit of a headache, but the bass amp was rather lovely (not that I was getting any in my monitor...harrumph!). We got it all reasonably comfortable on stage and headed to the green room for a vocal warm-up while Ali broke out the Scotch.  

The gig was great.  I think we’re all playing slightly better each time, and the punters were electric.  We even got called out for a second encore, which was amusing as we had basically run out of rehearsed songs!  A repeat of ‘Pishdaramad’, with a bit of extra d*cking around, went down a treat.  We left the venue, with a couple of band members already in moderate states of refreshment, and were taken out to a Greek* restaurant which the promoter had arranged to stay open late for us.  Lovely!  I was disappointed not to find spetsofai on the menu (a favourite from my trip to Rhodes with Hi-on Maiden), so settled for the stifado and some vino.  Top notch.   We piled back to the hotel bar for more need before kipping down for the night.  I ended up putting a near-paralytic Pecks to bed, before joining Atherton and Ali for some more of that rather tasty Scotch.  

Monday 26 September (München - Home)

shudder to think what else they think I want to boil...

Poor Atherton didn’t look too good in the morning.  I was absolutely fine until I decided that a pre-check-out beer was the way to go.   The less said about the result, the better!  We met in the lobby to find Ali desperately trying to re-arrange a coach he’d booked to take us to Nuremberg airport - he’d forgotten to tell us when the coach was, and subsequently we had missed it.  Whoops!  While we were trying to decide what to do about our onward travel plans, Sully was delighted to regale us with an early morning tale. He’d been woken up by a knocking sound at about half-past five in the morning, and opened his hotel room door to find Pecks, in a state of some undress and apparently sleep-walking, knocking on random doors out in the corridor! 

It cost a pretty penny, but we made our way to Nuremberg airport by train and underground.  The flight was briefly delayed, but all in all we were only about an hour late touching down in London before going our separate ways. 

 Sully's finest Sarah Palin impression...

Once agin, an absolute pleasure of a weekend away.  Thanks to my fellow Needsters, and the good people of Germany.  Prost!

Christopher “Come and have a bar in the beer with me!” Harrison

*It might have been a Turkish restaurant.  I can't remember.  Whatever it was, it was delicious and wonderful!

Saturday 20 August 2016

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - Tabestoon Festival, Calgary - 13 August 2016

This past Saturday marked my first gig with Ali Azimi & The Need.  The band had been invited back to headline the second Tabestoon Festival in Calgary, in the Canadian province of Alberta, after their successful appearance there in 2014.  It would be the band’s first gig in over a year, and my first gig with them.  No pressure, then!

First, a bit of background: Ali is a lovely Iranian fellow who, having recorded and released the album ‘88’ with Radio Tehran, found wider fame in the Iranian music world after recording the album “Mr. Mean” with a band which included two of my Carpathia colleagues.  The band’s song ‘Pishdaramad’ has been viewed nearly 1.5 million times on YouTube, and played another 2 million times on RadioJevan (a Persian music streaming service).  

Keyboard player “Naughty” Josh Trotter had to depart the touring band during the recording of the Need’s second album to start a new life away from London. My former bandmates invited me to audition to replace him, and I jumped at the chance to play with them again.  I auditioned successfully in February 2015, and lay in wait while the band spent the next year or so finishing the new record.  Which brings us to The Now.

I spent a couple of months swotting up on the tunes, and after half-a-dozen rehearsals everything was gig-ready.  I found myself playing keyboards through most of the set, picking up the bass or guitar every now and then, and singing backing vocals in Farsi (next time you see me, ask to see my phonetic lyric cheat-sheets - they’re quite a laugh!).

Friday 12 August (Home - Calgary)

On the morning of 12th August 2016, I found myself at Gatwick Airport far too early.  After a slightly panicked telephone call the night before from Ali “OMAAAA!” Azimi, I had hastily repacked my bag to leave space for the 100 or so CDs he had promised to bring along for the festival’s march desk. I was waiting for him land-side of security.  And I waited.  Then I waited some more... Ali was running on what one of his countrymen later referred to as ‘Persian Standard Time’; he arrived, unruffled, at 12pm - less than an hour before the ‘plane was supposed to take off!  I had been panicking slightly, as Gatwick Airport during the summer holidays can mean a pretty epic queue for security, but we sailed easily up to the X-ray machines.  

The universe obviously prefers to have me in a constant state of brown-trouser when travelling; my bag came out of the scanner and, to my horror, was immediately diverted to the Naughty Pile.  Apparently, they had detected a trace of explosives! The conversation could have gone something like this:  

Security Officer: “Did anybody give you anything to put in your carry-on bag, sir?”
Feckless Musician: “Why, yes; this lovely Iranian fellow standing next to me gave me two large cardboard boxes to travel with!”  
Security Officer: “Would you come with me sir? We’d like to check your bung-hole for dynamite.”

Thankfully, it was a false alarm, and we went through the departure lounge to the ‘plane, arriving just as the last call was being sounded.  I’ve never suffered this particular ignominy, though Ali says its standard practice for him!

The flight was a fairly uneventful 9 hours.  I can never sleep on planes, for some reason, and this can cause a bit of a problem for me with long-haul flights.  We emerged bleary-eyed into the early afternoon Calgary sunshine and piled into a car which took us downtown.  The cab driver (a nice Nicaraguan chap whose name escapes me as I write this) told us all about the place.  Tales of the weather and the changing seasons caught my interest; he said that they basically get 2 weeks of spring, 2 months of summer, 2 weeks of fall, and 9 months of winter.  "And Winter gave Spring and Summer a miss and went straight on into Autumn…

We checked into the Hyatt Regency at about 5:30pm where two of the band had already arrived, got drunk, and gone to bed.  Thankfully one of them was around to keep me company while Ali caught up with his local friends.  I chucked my stuff in room 823 and had a quick shower.  I’d arranged to meet Tom “San Quentin poodle” Sullivan by the pool, but it was full of kids, so we headed straight for the nearest bar for a beer and a burger at the nearby Bank & Baron Pub to celebrate my safe arrival.  I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to drink, at least not until later in the evening, so as not to disturb the much-needed sleep I wanted to get that evening.  Apparently, the two earlier arrivals had told themselves that; and then simply proceeded to throw 3 pints down their necks in the space of 20 minutes.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!  I enjoyed some delicious honey-ed lager or the other, and generally hung out with Sully for a bit which is always a pleasure.  He'd apparently been panicking for the whole journey because his eTA (travel authorisation) hadn't come through, but thankfully we all managed to get through border control without any drama. 

By the time we got back, our star guitarist Rich “floppy milking” Perks had surfaced, and we headed over to the festival site to check out the evening’s entertainment.  En route we met up with Pecks’ friend Rob, a Canadian who had graced English shores for a number of years (living, as it turned out, not too far from where I live now!) before recently deciding to return to the land the Maple leaf.  The Tabestoon festival was in full swing; the stage had been built over one corner of the water feature that is the centre of the Olympic Plaza - a public space built to host the medal ceremonies for the 1988 Winter Olympics which were held here.  The boys were getting recognised by folks who remembered them from previous shows across the pond, and I was enjoying the music quite a bit; apparently to the surprise of the bartenders, who seemed amused to see a pasty white Englishman bobbing his head and humming along to the tunes.

The crowd were appreciative, enthusiastic, and surprisingly rhythmic (“Try getting an English crowd to clap 7/8 in time!” marvelled Rich).  I had a few conversations with people about the band, about Ali’s lyrics, and what it all means to them.  My limited understanding is that, in Iran, recorded music has to be censored or approved by the state, and the state must give permission for many (if not all) live performances to take place.  Hearing Persian music recorded, released, and freely performed means a lot to the audience, and the subjects Ali touches on in the songs must have quite a resonance with his compatriots.  

I hit the brick wall of fatigue at around 10pm, and was getting bitten to f*ck by mosquitoes as big as my face, so after sorting out what time I would need to be ready for soundcheck I made my excuses to all present and buggered off to bed.  My room-mate and the band’s tub-thumper Tom “Old Traditional” Atherton arrived, pissed (!), a short while later. “I had a bottle of wine, a sleep, and then half a bottle of whiskey!” he pronounced proudly.  The lucky git had flown BA while the rest of us had budget airline feed and need to contend with.  He headed out to keep the buzz going while I tried (and generally failed) to get some kip.  

Saturday 13 August - Calgary, Tabestoon Festival

After stealing no more than an hour or two from the sandman, I gave up.  The two Toms and I headed up for breakfast, and then got ready for our 10am soundcheck.  We took the opportunity to run a couple of songs to an enthusiastic reception from those present, and made sure everything was comfortable on stage before heading back to the hotel.  Athers and me decided we were hungry again so headed out to the nearby shopping centre for some tasty Reuben sandwiches.  I also took the opportunity to check out Tim Hortons coffee, which had been recommended to me by several well-travelled friends - t’was quite delicious, and dead cheap (well, to this Englishman anyway).  

Atherton was sleepy, so we headed back to the hotel and I ran through the set on keys through my headphones until sleep threatened to take me too.  I dozed for a couple of hours, ironed my stage gear and wrestled with the hotel room coffeemaker (“Decaf? F*** off!!!”).  We arranged to meet in the lobby for 7:15 to head to the stage.   We were due on at 8pm, but when we arrived the previous act hadn’t even started yet.  Persian Standard Time…  

I went off in search of more coffee to fight the jet-lag which threatened to dull the gig, but returned empty handed.   It was soon our turn to set up, so we got on with it while a short dance piece diverted the audience’s attention, and then it was time to hit the stage.  Pecks had managed to sneak some tinnies onstage for us, which was apparently verboten (although, as he pointed out, there wasn’t much they could do about it when we were up there!).  The MC introduced us, hit the intro tape, and we got on with it. 

I don’t know where to start with the gig - it was quite something.  After a slightly shaky start, we found our groove about half-way through the third song and didn’t really put a foot wrong afterwards.  The only notable foul-up occurred in the encore; it was one of the three songs in the set that required a backing track for sound effects, etc. and which compounded the problem and made it even more difficult to recover (the Macbook doesn’t care that you’ve dropped a b***ock - it simply carries on regardless!).  My fellow band-mates were on fire, and I didn’t do too badly myself.  The love and warmth from the audience was palpable - they sang every word, they loudly cheered every instrumental solo-spot, and they even laughed at a few of Ali’s jokes (at least I think they were jokes - my Farsi isn’t that good yet!).  

It was a fairly loaded gig for me; my first gig with the band, and my introduction to an audience that had grown to love the band as it was before I joined.  The roar that went up both during and after my piano solo in ‘Ah Az Eshgh’ (‘Oh Love’) made me feel like I’d arrived, and there was something quite moving about it.  We were joined onstage by friends of the band, Toronto’s finest Rhythm & Vibes for the last two songs, helping us lead the crowd to the thunderous end of ‘Farda Soraghe Man Bia’ (‘Find Me Tomorrow’).  Thanks to Sara, Nima, and Siavash - who, quite frankly, IS the party - and thank YOU, Calgary!

We headed back to the hotel to dump our gear off, change clothes, and head for the after-party at the Royal Canadian Legion down the street.  Beer and dancing ensued, and I remember chewing poor Canadian Rob’s ear about UK politics (sorry Rob!).  I must have enjoyed myself; I remember being back in my hotel room at 4 A.M. demanding bourbon from room service!  Sadly, they could not oblige.  Atherton reported in the morning that I’d been quite civil about it - I was worried that I’d thrown a diva fit!

Sunday 14 August (Calgary - Home)

Athers wasn’t quite ready for breakfast when I was, so I sauntered upstairs on me tod for a bagel and too much coffee before heading back to the room to read for a while.  We packed and checked out without too much fuss, and I left my baggage with the hotel while Canadian Rob took us out to see a bit of Calgary.  We stopped for lunch at the Barley Mill where I finally managed to get on the bourbon.  

Poor Sully was fading fast and Atherton wasn’t far behind, so we dropped them at Rob’s apartment and headed out for a walk.  We passed Princes Island, which Rob told me was a man-made island which used to be part of the logging industry, and walked on along the Bow River.  I remember having a conversation about memory (there’s a phrase!) and how we seem to be losing it in the modern age - why bother remembering anything when you’ve got access to all the world’s knowledge in a little box you keep in your pocket?  I wonder what we’re going to evolve in the place of memory - maybe nothing, maybe something useful.  

We diverted off the river and back to the Bank & Baron for one last drink before I had to leave for the airport.  I said my goodbyes, and sat in the lobby waiting to meet Ali at 4pm.  We clambered into the car and headed back to Calgary International.  Despite the epic-looking security queue, we were still in the departure lounge in plenty of time, which made Ali a bit anxious - I think he hates being early as much as I hate being late!  He did meet some friends in the departure lounge and ended up being the last one on the ‘plane, so I guess he managed to be a bit late after all. 

The flight crew were a damn sight more cheerful than the miserable bunch who had flown us out to Calgary 2 days ago - "You've all already done up your seat belt, and we’ve already checked that you’ve all done it - now, as part of our safety briefing, we're gonna show you how you did it!”  I almost felt sorry for anyone on board who didn’t speak English and had to put up with the humourless pre-recorded announcements in French.   Again, the flight was uneventful and, true to form, I still couldn't get to sleep.  Perhaps I should tell the doctor I’m scared of flying and score some diazepam - that and a cheeky Chianti might send me off to the mile-high land of nod…

On the way home I made a brief pit-stop at Clackett Lane services where absolutely everyone was an complete and total unmitigated arsehole.  Everyone.  Staff, customers, even the people just hanging around in the car park.  Probably even me.  A shower of bastards.   Having spent the last few days in Canada where everyone was really nice and friendly, this was a bit of a shock to the system, and nearly enough to make me feel like turning around and heading back to Calgary.  Perhaps I shouldn’t use a tired old service station on the M25 as my barometer for humanity, but it made me less than relieved to be home.  I love England, but sometimes I really hate my fellow countrymen.  

Way to end the gig diary on a downer, Harrison!  

All in all, I had a great time.  The band and the audience welcomed me with open arms, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.  Roll on the rest of the World Tour! 

Chris “just one to declare” Harrison

Pishdaramad video by Arash Ashtiani
Photos courtesy of the Diaspora Arts Connection, and the author.