Well – OIL BE!
A great many of the live dates I completed whilst a young drummer introduced me to a number of emotive responses that I had previously not experienced. The vast majority could be filed under “FEAR” as I thought I was very likely to die “in the saddle” so to speak.
As so often is the case in this business, when you extricate yourself from a dangerous gig with the same number of limbs as you entered with, you sometimes are under the misapprehension that the near death experience you have just had was the gig to end all gigs. And as we all know – there’s always another live date that will have you thinking, “that desk job wasn’t quite such a bad deal after all!”
After a few dates in the North East of England, we were informed that we had been given an extra date at a Scottish oil facility a few days hence. None of us had been north of the border before and the accepted thinking was that we could get up there the following day and enjoy a couple of days break in the land of the haggis and take in the sights, sounds and smells.
The day after our last gig in Newcastle, we packed up, crammed into the bus (affectionately known as the “The Flying T*rd” as it was brown, could manage 95mph and had particularly t*rdy smell about it), consulted the map and set off. Now what we didn’t know was that when reading a map of Scotland, you should always check the scale! A map of England may be at one scale, but often the map of some parts of Scotland is at a different scale. This is due to vast swathes of Scotland being Highland moors, rocky outcrops and be-sporraned men who delight in giving incomprehensible directions to idiot English folk lost in the middle of nowhere. Suffice to say, we didn’t realise this difference in our map and what we thought was a 50-mile journey was, in fact nearer to 200 miles via teeny-tiny, winding highland roads!
As we drove further north on this crisp, February morning, the early sun slipped behind some light fluffy clouds, the light fluffy clouds became darker, the darker clouds became sinister, the sinister clouds transformed into evil clouds and before long the evil clouds were replaced by a really dark version of what must go on in the Devil’s lower colon after a really hot curry. We were treated to some light precipitation and during these transformations we experienced, light rain, a bit more rain, heavy rain, rain with snow mixed in, blizzard and a blinding snow storm. And then the weather got REALLY bad.
Had anyone nearby been able to see more than 2” in front of their nose, I can only guess it would have been quite amusing to see us sliding gracefully round the hairpin bends halfway up a Scottish mountain. I should point out that we were heading for Western Scotland, which involves braving the elements of a mountainous nature over a distance that was considerably greater than we first thought.
For hours after we had expected to be settling into our hotel rooms, we were still skidding our demented bus around in a dark snow storm – Lord only knows where we were, so we gave up, stopped where we were and settled down as best we could for some sleep.
I was awoken a few hours later by the sun streaming in through the window. I prised my eyes open and was astounded by what I didn’t see. No snow. Not a flake. We were parked next to a quite stunningly, beautiful loch, as still as a mill pond stretching for what seemed like miles set amongst mountainous peaks. Stunned into silence, it was a few minutes before I realised Dave and Mandy (guitar and vox respectively) were also awake and peering at the amazing spectacle with me. “Wow!” we said as one.
We noticed a fuel station just a short distance away, well – it was a small, stone house with a fuel pump in front of it, so we started up and pulled in to refuel. At first, there didn’t seem to be anyone around and the silence was deafening. “Listen,” I said to Dave, “What?” says he, “I can’t hear anything.” Exactly, not a sound. Until that is Muppet, the sound engineer finally woke up, exited the bus and let fly with a buttock-ripping fart.
A small man, in a very heavy chunky knit sweater, appeared from the edges of the loch and greeted us. At least we think it was a greeting. He looked at the assembled 80’s musos, replete with big blonde hair, Day-Glo accessories, leather pants and an odour not dissimilar to that of the north end of a south bound donkey and spoke. At the end of his pronouncement, which may have well been in Chinese for all we understood, he stared intently at us, not moving. We paused, hoping that one of the team had got some sort of grasp as to what he was saying, but since this obviously was not the case, we smiled inanely and all six of us pointed at the fuel filler cap making nervous chimp-like noises.
He’d obviously met plenty of lost English types before and adhered to the approved method of dealing with English Visitors as recommended by the Scottish Tourist Office. He snarled something at us, began muttering to himself and proceeded to unhook the fuel trigger. “How much d’you want?” he suddenly said in perfectly enunciated English. This caught us off guard and Phil, the keyboard player in a typical show of diplomatic skill unique to him, said “So you can speak f****** English?” We bundled Phil back into the bus, apologising to the man who merely rolled his eyes skyward and spat a dog-sized glob of brown sputum into the distance.
We settled our bill and enquired if we were on the right road for the Kishorn oil rig facility. He thought for a moment and answered in the affirmative, telling us that we should stay on this road and we should be there in about 6 hours if we were lucky. Six hours? We thought it was going to be just around the next mountain! Still, it was a beautiful day and the journey passed in no time as we were treated to some of the most outstanding natural scenery the world has to offer.
We arrived in the village, located the hotel and checked in. The Hotel had been built like a sort of mini bijou castle-ette, with turrets and little slits in the walls where archers could ply their skills. Since the entertainment in the village consisted of one pub, the size of a small broom cupboard, which would no doubt be packed with big, hairy Scotsmen getting smashed on the locally brewed chewing ale, we decided to make our own entertainment at the hotel. This involved locating all the half consumed bottles of Vodka, JD, Rum and meths that could be heard rolling around the bus – but never located when needed in an emergency and getting utterly, utterly ratted.
By 1am, it was clear we had to think about sleep so we each started to stagger round the vast corridors of the stone walled castle like interior in search of bathrooms and our bedrooms. As Dave was swearing his way to the smallest room, I hatched a plan with Muppet, utilising a ghetto blaster and a transmitter mic. We had been conversing earlier in the evening we about the “spooky factor” of the hotel and the odds-on likelihood of a spirit still roaming the grounds having not understood local directions to the afterlife. With this in mind, we tuned the stereo into the mic’s frequency, placed it behind the wardrobe in Dave’s room and retired giggling to Muppet’s room – next door.
Mandy joined us and we explained our nefarious plan and she was recruited into our naughty doings. We listened for Dave stumbling back to his room and before long, his distinctive snore could be heard reverberating around the hotel. I carefully switched the microphone on and with Mandy going “Wooooooo.......wooooooo!” and Muppet jangling some chains from the lighting rig, I began in my best Vincent Price voice, “David! Daaaaviiiiid! Your time has come! You must move oooover to the otheerrrr side! Daviiiiid! We have come for yooooooooou!”
We stopped and pressed our ears up the adjoining door to hear “Huh…. Wha? What the ferrr……grunt.”
We started again, same routine and listened. “What? Who’s that? "Who are you?”
Stifling the eruptions of laughter that wanted to escape us, we continued. “David- you have sinned against the world! Your solos should be limited to 16 bars, but you persist in extending them! You cannot repent! It is too late! YOU HAVE PLAYED YOUR LAST EXCRUCIATING SOLO! Beelzebub needs you to torture souls in HELLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!” We returned to the door to hear the bedroom window being forced open. We went to our window, opened it just in time to see the ghetto blaster being launched into space and smashing on the road below. We closed our window and went to bed.
Nothing was ever mentioned about this, not even at breakfast the next day.
So onto the gig. The rig was situated a mile or two of f the coast and the base camp was where we were to play. The set up went according to plan and we were ready in plenty of time for the 8pm start. The deal was three 45-minute sets and then the long haul back down to Manchester overnight, no problem.
We made some enquiries about the rig and learned that the camp serviced two rigs, the one that could be seen from the base and another further down into the Irish Sea. The guys on the nearer rig came back to base at the end of each shift but the other rig workers stayed there for several weeks at a time. We asked who would we be playing to, the guys on the nearest rig? Usually yes, but tonight, there was a shift from the other rig coming in and they were going to be in PARTEYYYY MOOD! First night back before they returned home to family life for a while. The only other matter that concerned me upon inspecting the vast hall where we were to play – was the height of the stage. It was about 6 or 7 feet high. Strange.
By the time we started, the guys were pretty well oiled (haha – oh the wit!!) and were determined to have a good time. So keen were they that they applauded as we took the stage, “We’d better be good!” I thought. We opened with the Theme from Shaft and I knew then we were in for a storming gig. Every man jack of them joined in with the “Ba-da-bada-bap, bada-bada-bap –baaaaa” bits drumming on the tables, but I suppose been stuck in the middle of the Irish Sea in a life threatening job puts every entertainment opportunity into perspective. Time to bring on the only woman in a 10-mile radius. We kicked into the opening of ONJ’s “Physical”.
On walks Mandy.
In a schoolgirl’s uniform.
The place erupted, not unlike a combination of Mount Krakatoa, Hiroshima, a side order of fries and all the salad you can eat. Chairs, tables, drinks and smaller members of the oil drilling community were sent flying in the crush to get to the edge of the stage. Aha! 7-foot high stage – I see!
Now I have absolutely no idea whose idea it was for Mandy to have a schoolgirl’s outfit. Or why she should bring it on tour. Or why, indeed she should wear it at this gig of all gigs with an audience of sex-starved time bombs!! A strange new, never before feeling of utter terror flooded through my veins. All my life force seemed to be exiting my body via the lower aperture of the digestive system.
As it happened, they did settle down a bit and generally really enjoyed the show. As I said, it was supposed to be three 45-minute sets, but as set 1 drew to a close, Phil announced that we “would be taking a short break….” But was cut off by the sound of chair legs scraping on the floor and a harmonious growling and snarling from the audience. “But that won’t be some time yet!” he added quickly albeit nervously.
Four hours later, the “first” set finally came to a close when those that were left finally succumbed to the effects of a vast alcohol intake, for the first time in months, over a startlingly short period. We stumbled off stage into the dressing room and collapsed. The venue manager came to see us and thanked us for a great show and amazingly asked us if we would do another for the two shifts that had just got back from the rigs. Plus there was the next shift already here who would be taking over the next day.
“You gotta be joking!” croaked Mandy. “We’ve just done almost DOUBLE what we’re contracted for! Forget it!” Go Mandy!
“But…” the manager continued, “I could get them all to put £5 in each for you to play another show?”
He suddenly had our undivided attention. Dave asked, “The agent won’t know about this?”
“No way guys, this is between me and you.”
“How many riggers will there be?” I asked.
“Lesse… £5 times 300 = we’ll do it!”
Once more into the breach, same as last time but we played with a little more vigour and enthusiasm this time! I tell you, even today, you’d get wall-to-wall smiles from me for £250 a gig each!!! After another one set marathon, it was about 6am, the sun was blinking a beautiful Scottish sunrise and we staggered into the dressing room and started to count out all the crumpled Scottish fivers.
The night shift manager was now on duty and entered our make shift counting house, had a little giggle and asked if the night shifts could expect a show.
“How many riggers?”
“Give us 5 minutes.” Mandy said blearily as she ironed her outfit for the second time.
Mike Ellis wrote this article from the detention suite at Heathrow Airport where he is on first name terms with all the Customs Officers. The incidents detailed in the above article SHOULD NOT be attempted at home without the supervision of someone very, very sensible and probably really, really boring.