Beast Fighters
I couldn’t quite make up my mind if we were moving on into France or Italy today. Everything about the final destination, a second visit of the tour to the Four Seasons, Milan, said Italy. Yet first there was the small matter of a gig, no ordinary gig as it happens.
After a whirlwind two days at home in some of the nicest English weather imaginable, I found myself in a last minute packing panic to the cries of lunatic seagulls over-protective of their recently hatched offspring on our roof, dive-bombing anything that steps out of the house, especially Gidget, our faithful Golden Retriever. She, I might add, remains utterly oblivious to any impending aerial claw/beak attack and just barks at the imaginary fox over the fence. The gulls swoop to within inches of our oblivious canine but give me a wider birth, i suppose in case I suddenly reveal some secret humanoid weapon designed for seagull extermination…oh if only. No sooner had I arrived home, I was off again. In the plane crossing the English Channel, looking out over the Solent, the Isle of White, Selsey Bill and Pagham Harbour. Home.
The scene of many gladiatorial battles, there aren’t many venues you play on a tour, that you can say were built around the year 70AD. In 1873, L’Arena di Nîmes was remodeled as a bullring and is still the host to two annual bullfights. It’s the best preserved Roman amphitheater in existence and its complexity and construction is testament to the Roman engineers of that time so long ago. In another time long ago, 1992, we played here with Dire Straits, the venue being the setting for our ‘On The Night’ DVD. I recall the huge crane which shot the opening scene over the high walls of the building just as we took to the stage. The arena is no less imposing today as we arrived in our fleet of Range Rovers and pulled up at the backstage area of what is this week, ‘Le Festival de Nîmes 2013’. There was just time for a customary visit to the catering area situated conveniently next door to the dressing rooms before I met up with some dear friends of mine who traveled up from Nice to see the show. Mel and Alex Ignatieff and family were round the corner in a restaurant having a bite to eat and enjoying the atmosphere around the arena. Alex is a true ‘master of wine’ and he and Mel recently moved his emporium to the Riviera from the UK. Initially he was storing wines to be supplied to a selection of restaurants from Menton to Theoule-sur-Mer but more recently the focus has been on expanding to meet the full needs of his growing clientele in this most cosmopolitan corner of the world. 
Alex very kindly dropped off a magnum of one of the nicer Cotes du Provence Rose wines, Chateau Maime. It went immediately onto ice for our late night flight after the show. Delicious it was.
The weather in England has been hot but down here in the South of France it was even hotter with temperatures reaching 36ºC this afternoon. The Space Blankets were out on stage, protecting the sensitive instruments from the blazing sunlight.
Our support act for this evening was Bap Kennedy. Mark produced Bap’s last record and most of us in the band played on it. If you haven’t already, check out ‘The Sailor’s Revenge’.
After Bap had warmed the crowd up, we took to the stage, quite late, at 9:35PM. The sun was setting and the roar was probably little different to what I would imagine as ancient Gladiators or even the Bestiarii (beast fighters) took to the arena and fought for their lives. Fortunately there was no such desperate battle taking place this evening, except possibly with the lighting rig. At one point, Mark described them over the mic. as Christmas lights. During festival shows such as these, we use the ‘house’ PA and lights and Simon’s task suddenly becomes a lot harder as he has to re-program his lighting desk in whatever time he has available (in afternoon sunshine) to accommodate such foreign systems. Tonight’s system was clearly incompatible as he fought throughout the show for control of these high-tech beasts, each with a mind of its own. Apparently these lights don’t just go on and off, like most modern lights, they graduate from 0% to 100%. Whoever designed this particular version, decided that anything over 50% was a strobe effect. Of course most of Simon’s programs are based on percentages of light over 50%. His battle was a very public one but in reality, I doubt it marred the enjoyment of the evening for the crowd. It was mildly off-putting on the stage but all in all, we had a fantastic show. The audience was incredible, as it has been throughout France and indeed the whole of Europe.
Even though it was a relatively long travel day today, everything went as smooth as silk. Starting at home, the flight out of Northolt was smooth and swift, arrival in Nimes was great too. An airport which welcomes a mere three flights per day didn’t have any issues with tarmac access for the cars and so we were collected from the steps of the plane pre-show and delivered to the plane after-show with zero fuss. The late night landing at Milan’s Malpensa airport also was a delight. The smoothest entry into Italy that I can recall. Tarmac access was granted with a smile and we were off on the road to the hotel in no time at all. Exhausted and with feelings of Deja Vu, we arrived at the Four Seasons in the heart of Milan at sometime around 2am. A very, very comfortable bed awaited.
Yes, it’s Italy. We love Italy.