Border Swag
One of the great joys of hubbing, or basing from a city is the minimal packing. After a final ‘Crème brûlée’ style singeing by the pool, it was time to take on the first ‘pack’ of the tour. My Briggs and Riley suitcase lies empty in the corner of the room with its contents distributed remarkably evenly around the room. My mission is to somehow squeeze it all back in. Luckily the Briggs has thaumaturgic ‘Tardis’-like qualities and there always seems to be a cranny in the corner for that last item which the customary idiot-check highlights. The kettle is the one item left out today but with a bit of a push, I get the lid closed and stand the case upright by the door ready for collection. Pete, our assistant tour manger (Saint Peter, as we like to call him) collects all the bags and takes them ahead of time to the plane so we only have to deal with carry-on, more than enough for any musician. Once checked out of the hotel, we struggle through Istanbul road mania once more wondering how this will all end up? Will the city and all others around the globe eventually be completely grid-locked? The way it’s going, comparing these places to when were were here in years past, it’s not looking good. Time to move our thoughts to matter closer to hand, the airport, where we depart for the final time and board the plane and head for Belgrade.
A short ‘hop’ heading North West, over a corner of the Black sea, across Bulgaria and into deepest Serbia..destination – Beograd.
As we came through the airport security, we all felt the searing heat of the afternoon sun. I would guess the temperature was in the 90’s. Our vehicular fleet, whisked us smoothly and comfortably to the familiar arena situated in an area known as ‘new Belgrade’. We pull in and sling our passes around our necks, walk with hand luggage through a security station and on towards the dressing rooms. Moving from sofia to Belgrade without a day off in between can be tricky for the crew since the borders in these regions are a bit of an unknown quantity. There’s no guarantee how long it will take to get through and with a difficult load-out last night which involved every piece of gear going down in an elevator (easier than a window!) was long and slow. I’m not sure the buses departed much before 5am. With a border less than 50 miles away, it wasn’t long before the buses were held up and the fact that one of the drivers is Bulgarian, combined with the traditional ‘swag’ (merchandise) offerings to the border guards, eased the crossing.
The fact that the load-in in Belgrade was more routine helped matters and the crew, most of whom skipped lunch, were ready for the band to soundcheck only about an hour later than planned. At the moment, we are soundchecking quite rigorously as there are many things to address after each show. In fact, I’ve taken to making after-show notes with Mark in the cars on the way out of the venues. With some new tunes to run and various setlist alterations and experiments, we completed the soundcheck about an hour later Just time to take a leisurely stroll down to the catering area. I can’t resist a few snaps of the caterers busy serving up dinner for the crew, drivers and band.
George and Dave – dinner
With showtime upon us we were led out towards the stage by Pete and Kevin Production manager) and felt the heat inside the arena. It’s gonna be a hot one, I thought. The final three pre-show tracks were rolling and the countdown had begun. Then it was the call for “house lights” and on we went with Crockford making the usual thunderous introduction and we steamed into the first song. Still only the fourth show in, there was plenty of nervous excitement on the stage as well as off. One of my synths, the Nord 2x decided to do something ‘weird’ during the 5th song. No worries though as Jules was on hand to isolate and fix the issue. Something else to investigate and the soundcheck in Turin.
Jules Bowen, keyboard tech extraordinaire…
One way to hang a backstage drape….
After the show we did the usual band runner to the airport, usually the GA terminal but for some reason we had to use the main terminal building tonight. This is always a bit strange since the airport is now closed so there’s plenty of room for things to go wrong, and they always do. The security was pretty hilarious with us all being given boarding passes and going through the usual screening devices, you know the deal, laptops out, shoes and watches off, jackets and mobiles devices in the trays. All fine but to have to do it again at the gate, a mere few meters from where we were, all supervised by a police officer with as much of a sense of humour as a US immigration employee, was moronic. We were the only people in the airport for gods sake! Ah well, on board our Embraer with boarding passes in hand we set about making ourselves at home for the 90 minute flight into Milan and the prospect of proper coffee…and more.
We arrived in Milan and were reminded of Italy’s quirkiness almost immediately as Pete had a comedic runaround with the bags. Too long a story to go into but it involved two Italian ‘jobsworths’.  Stars and Cars team C met us and drove us perfectly, smoothly and efficiently through intermittent torrential rain showers to the center of Milan and a particularly splendid hotel.
At about 3am, I switched the light off.