Sheffield to Cardiff.
I'm very much on my own tour at present, as I stayed the night in Sheffield and took the train to Cardiff by myself this afternoon. It's not that I’m antisocial but I wanted to maximise the amount of time in Sheffield to make the most of seeing my friends.
Sheffield has made its mark in music, having spawned plenty of bands who have gone the distance, but probably its only global cinematic claim to fame is having been the setting for 'The Full Monty'. You may remember that this film opens with a promotional film for Sheffield, made circa 1973, entitled 'Sheffield, City on the Move'. Seen now it is an absolutely hilarious P.R. fantasy, bigging up the most ordinary aspects of a pleasant but ordinary city in a pleasant but ordinary country. (It obviously worked though. Seeing this film as a teenager I remember thinking how lucky I was to be growing up in such a happening place, uncynical youth that I was).
My school friends Caroline and Martin came by and we had lunch in a nearby cafe. Afterwards we wandered a little and decided to go on the giant Ferris wheel. The three of us had one of the little glass pods to ourselves and waited as they loaded up the others. Finally we took off and once the wheel had turned about 5 degrees, Caroline looked mortified and exclaimed 'Oh no! I've just remembered I'm afraid of heights!' then buried her head in her handbag for the duration.
There was an optional commentary given by some psychotic enthusiast from a local radio station. We had a listen to him extolling the virtues of our fine city in bogus chat show host style over a manically hip soundtrack. Our favourite line was 'and if you look beyond the railway station you can see the world famous... Park Hill Flats!' (They're the toast of Hollywood, I'm sure). In twenty years time I've no doubt that his ludicrous monologue will be included as a bonus comedy feature on the Sheffield City on the Move DVD...
After the exhilaration of the big wheel, I wanted to go to Graves Art Gallery above the central library, which is close by. I remember this well from my youth but haven't been in the place since finishing my biology soil project in 1976. It's a beautiful 1930's building and appropriately the gallery was showing an exhibit of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson's work from Norfolk in the 1930s. It was a wonderful show and I enormously enjoyed becoming reacquainted with the gallery.
Took a packed afternoon train from Sheffield and on arrival in Cardiff was pleased to find that the hotel and venue were both within walking distance of the railway station. Down at the stadium everything was more or less assembled, though due to venue having a rather low, retractable roof, we had to leave off the top ten metres of the spire, including the high mirrorball, which was a bit of a drag.
I had dinner in catering, over which conversations mainly consisted of plans for the forthcoming break. We've got a little over two weeks before we reassemble in Chicago to take on North America, so most people are going to run away and hide somewhere for a while.
Smasher was beaming as it's his birthday today and he had received a phone call from the International Space Station. The crew called his cellphone via some Intergalactic-Skype kind of set up and sang him 'happy birthday' from space, which has to be the coolest singing telegram in history. Since the tour's first link-up with the space station, Smasher's maintained a pen-pal relationship with Frank DeWinne (it's a Flemish thing). I'm not sure how they figured out it was his birthday but I guess if you're an astronaut you can find out these things.
Saturday 22nd August 2009. Cardiff. Show day.
It's the last day of school before half term, so there was a definite levity in the air. The only slight cloud on my horizon was that the stadium roof, which was due to be closed to comply with the license regulations, was opened at 3pm and remained so for the night. As at Wembley night two, it seems that the regulations had given way to preserve the long-term sound quality reputation of the building. This was a huge bonus for the gig, but did leave our truncated pylon looking a little silly. No matter, it was for the greater good; I vividly recall playing this building with the roof closed on the Vertigo tour and a crystal clear acoustic experience is not what springs to mind.
I had a couple of other meetings regarding some tweaks we're going to make to the system before the North American leg begins. I'm making some minor changes to the lighting system, the video screen motors are getting an overhaul, the mix position is being rethought slightly - not a particularly glamorous to-do list, but these things are impossible to get done when in the throes of back-to-back touring.
The band finished the run with a great show, made all the more so by the singing of the audience. The mighty Welsh voices combined with the acoustics of the stadium to produce a wonderful (and extremely loud) rock choir. Great way to send us off on our break.
Sunday 23rd August 2009. Cardiff - London.
I didn't set an alarm last night so slept quite late before getting up and checking out of the hotel. There was nobody from the tour in the lobby, no familiar faces, or tour crew clothing, anywhere, so I paid my incidentals and walked down to the station by myself. Our instant community has already started to fragment and disperse, before re-forming on the other side of the planet.
I'm looking forward to taking this show to America after this extraordinarily successful first leg in Europe. When we all first looked at this beast in Barcelona there wasn't a person on board who didn't have some fear and trepidation about the reality of being able to tour it smoothly and consistently, but we just did four venues in a week. We've got a lot of very talented people out here and I'm very happy that they're all about to get a little down time.