Two-and-a-half years into this project, finally the day dawns when I get to see the creation in the flesh. Heading to Barcelona, flying from City Airport, which is always a joy. Aside from being half the travel time to Heathrow, it's also tiny so you just coast through the place. It's perhaps on a par with flying from Dublin in the 70's, though it hasn't entirely escaped the MBA marketing consultants, as evidenced by a section in the airside café menu called, I kid you not, 'Tapatisers'.
It's never busy but on this Sunday morning it's absolutely dead, so I have some quiet time to contemplate what lies ahead. I seem to be getting out to the UK just prior to the total collapse of its entire parliamentary system. What does a country do when it's people decide they've had enough of all their politicians? Theoretically, I suppose the Queen takes over but don't get me started on that topic.
Load-in commenced a week ago at the Nou Camp Stadium. It took an act of will on my part not to fly down immediately, but the first few days consisted of putting down the pitch covering and other equally exciting activities, so I've been patient. My co-designer Mark Fisher has been in Barcelona since Wednesday to supervise putting on the 'skin' of the structure for the first time so he's been sending photographic updates. It looks very promising but I'm trying not to think about it too much until I'm there in person.
The 'production' loads in today. There are three sets of the main steel structure that will leapfrog each other in order for us to be able to do more than one show every two weeks. There is, however, only one set of the bulk of the touring equipment, which is just referred to as 'the production' in the inexplicable parlance of rock tours. This consists, essentially, of all the really expensive bits; all the lighting and sound equipment, the video screen, the central pylon thingy, as well as the performance stage itself and all the gear on, under and around it. It's a lot of stuff and even the most experienced of our crew are regarding the task of moving it from place to place as an unprecedented challenge.
Conveniently, we have managed to put together a small army of exceptional people to deal with this; some of them the very best in their price range. There are also a lot of new faces on the crew for this tour; only two out of the fourteen lighting crew have ever done a U2 tour before and other departments are similarly represented. The last sea change of this scale was on the ZooTV tour and now (a staggering 17 years later) many of those alumni have retired. Much talk of wanting to spend time with their children, etc., which privately I view as an abominably selfish lack of commitment to art, but one mustn't be unfeeling. I'm greatly looking forward to an injection of new blood into the process, as with it come new ideas and enthusiasm. This morning the entire crew is getting an 'orientation and safety' run through of the stage and how the show is expected to run. I'd say once they've picked their jaws up off the floor they'll open the truck doors and get on with it.
Later that same day...
I arrived in Barcelona and headed to the Nou Camp stadium. It's a building with high grandstands, revealing nothing of what's inside, so I had to wait until the last steps of my journey out to the field before I finally saw what we are proposing to take on tour. I'm officially Not Disappointed. Much remains to be built, but enough was standing there to give a real sense of what this thing is and how it might work. It is also immediately apparent that this is an undertaking of unprecedented scale and complexity.
The seating grandstands are extremely high in this building, but I took the (very) long walk up and around the place to look at the structure from all angles. The proportions are deceptive and weirdly the higher you climb the bigger the structure seems to be. Perhaps it's just hard to judge it from the ground.
Way up in the nosebleed seats I ran into Mark Fisher who was also doing the long walk and taking photographs. We shared a moment of 'can you believe we're actually doing this?' with a brief look back at how far we've come.
Night fell with the surprising speed that it does in these climes. By 21.00 or so people were calling it a day, having put in 12 hours or more. Once back at the hotel the word went out that the bar on the corner was the place to be. I headed down there for some late night beer and tapatisers and caught up with a lot of people whom I haven't seen for quite a while. So... we're on tour.