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!