Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

Let me tell you the story of my first ever (paid) Gig. I had befriended Moose, the Newcastle City Hall stage Manager (or more officially, Custodian as far as the City Council was concerned) at my reccy visit for an upcoming school prizegiving and subsequently on the actual event in the summer of 1974. (Or was it 75? I'm starting to get confused when I search for references on 't'internet!)

He casually mentioned that he was looking for Humpers for the Sensational Alex Harvey Band that weekend and possibly a follow-spot during the show.

Now, as I'd never been paid for a show before at that stage (I was in 5th form at school) I said yes before I even knew what the rates were, or indeed what my plans were. It was £5 for humping- (Getting the flight cases out of the truck and then back in again afterwards) and £2 to be a showman.

It was all cash in hand, of course. The resident show crew were actually paid as part of the "Stewart list" (i.e. the door staff, otherwise known as Bouncers.)

The get-in was reasonably uneventful- a zillion wheeled flight cases to be trundled down the ramp, in the stage door, up a crude wooden board over the first three steps, through the stage left doorway, up another couple of steps onto the platform itself then to be left where the roadies wanted it. (Most went onstage but some went out to the mixing position, a few down to the dressing rooms and a couple of big heavy ones up to the back of the balcony. Whilst I wasn't familiar with the subtleties of rock & roll touring, I was able to recognise the purpose of much of the equipment once the lids came off.

Once the van was empty, the road crew would dismiss the house staff but welcomed those that wanted to hang around and lend a hand. The sort of jobs we would get were fairly typical at the time- help assemble the lighting trusses, Get the CSIs (follow-spots) rigged up onto their stands and tested, help roll out the Multicores. (The multicore was the thick sausage cable that linked the mixing position and the stage. It was generally ran out for both lighting and sound, often with sundry intercom cables as well.)

Running the multicore involved using up at least a roll or two of "Gaffa tape", generally grey or silver, single sided, fabric base, very sticky and relatively easily removable afterwards. We would put carpet strips over the cables in the main aisles and then ensure they were very well stuck down so that people didn't trip up.

The crew were very amiable, mostly Scots and very good at what they did. (SAHB were a scottish band).

For the actual show, this was my first introduction to wearing headphones with a boom mic on an intercom system, We wore a beltpack which also had a cue light on it to get your attention if you were "off cans" (e.g. during the interval). The cues and directions were called by the lighting designer (the LD),who was also operating the lighting desk. There were four of us that night (the two regular guys on the Hall followspots and another two of us on the brought-in followspots).

The actual show was a fairly easy one to work. I don't remember who the support was (or if we had to light them) but the LD explained who the band were, what they played and assigned us each to a musician. (I was given Zal Clementson, the outrageous Guitarist who wore a sort of cat suit, had white clown makeup and strutted). He called the lighting cues well to the point that we were able to second-guess them for great visual timing. We were also rather good at opening up on the right place without having to jerk scrappily into position or flash golfball-sized beams to check beforehand.

There was one big visual lighting cue, where the Band played "Delilah". In the middle 8, the band turned their backs on us and strutted their bums and our cue was to go tightly in onto their arses and follow them accordingly. We managed to pull it off seamlessly and we received high praise from the LD. Indeed he gave us tour T shirts afterwards as a thank-you.

One thing I didn't expect though, was how noisy it was wearing headphones. With 2,100+ frenetic fans screaming their lungs off we were having to shout to each other over the cans. At first it hurt, then you tuned in and got used to it. (Turning off our own boom mics unless we needed to say anything also helped). I didn't realise how loud it had been until I rang home from backstage after the gig- and thought the phone was faulty as I could hardly hear my mum.

I was also lined up for another Gig that night- SAHB were playing the Newcastle Mayfair Ballroom a few weeks later and it was such a notoriously bad get-in (being two floors underground with a goods lift the size of a filing cabinet) that the crew arranged for eight of us to participate in the Gig. I had really enjoyed them and I looked forward to a chance to see them again.

I didn't get a free Album on that occasion but I did buy "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" from Callers a few weeks later. SAHB also released delilah as a "Live" Single and I was delighted to see that the cover photos featured them at the City Hall, although I don't know if the recording was ours. One of those big white beams had me on the other end of it.


james higham said...

Now let's get this straight - you worked with the SAHB? Wow!

Delicolor said...

James, I wasn't on first name terms with them or anything! I remembered some of the crew's names after the third time and a couple of them even remembered mine. (I was known as PROF then).

Although Alex H was actually a fairly approachable bloke. After their return gig in 1976, he gave permission to let the hardcore fans come into the green room and signed autographs. I even remember him (slightly reluctantly) signing the back of a "Hairy" with a Magic Marker.

Ian Appleby said...

I, too, am awestruck and somewhat jealous. The SAHB are sadly under-rated; anyone who hears "Next" will surely never forget it. I was stunned when I learnt that what I thought was a heartfelt, autobiographical song was in fact a cover version.

"Framed" is also a firm favourite of mine, although I'm guessing that's linked to the Peel Hotel in Bradford staying open 'til midnight when everywhere else shut at 11. Jed's Blues Band were the house band for a good while, and they always seemed to end with Framed: the judge and cops resorting to ever more outlandish ploys to frame Jed...

Delicolor said...

Next, Faith healer, Tale of the Giant Stone eater, Vambo, Midnight moses, Framed, Compliments to the Chef, Anthem, Tomorrow belongs to me, all cracking stuff.

Buckets better live than in the studio, it was a big shock when I heard that Alex died.

Goddammit, I need to check out that old vinyl downstairs and see what made it onto CD backfill...

Ian Appleby said...

Oh god, you've set me off,now, as well - I've got two or three albums tucked away on vinyl that I haven't got around to making into MP3s, yet. But I fried my MP3 player the day before we flew to Vietnam (40GB, 40 bloody GB...) and I can't get any Linux apps to play music files on my network drive, so digitising vinyl is way down my list of audio priorities just now...

I have a live double album, and some live tracks on the Penthouse Tapes; they must have been a sight to see live. When I went to Westward Ho! and sang "Devon, I'm in Devon, and my heart beats so that I can barely speak", I was being Alex, not Frank...

Sadly missed. Mind you, his brother had a proper rock star death: choked to death on someone else's vomit. No,hang on, that was a drummer... he was electrocuted live on stage by his guitar.

Delicolor said...

Ian A, not a lot I can add really, I liked SAHB but was more into progressive stuff then.

(I've tweaked the posting to show 2100+ rather than 1800+).