I’ve often said that I never feel as British as when returning from a long stint away. We’ve been out of the country for so much of the last six months though, that for the first time ever, it actually feels a little odd to be back in Blighty. Without wanting to get all cliched and "life on the road" about it, I have to admit to finding my own country feeling a bit foreign and unfamiliar when we get home his time.
It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what gives me this feeling. One thing that I notice myself doing almost constantly when abroad is gazing out of the windows as we travel. Just being in a foreign country makes everything interesting. Everyday things such as bus stops, payphones and letterboxes are all a little different. I often watch folks going about their everyday lives and form a (most likely quite inaccurate) idea of what it would be like to live here (wherever "here" happens to be on that particular day). For the first time ever, I’m looking out of the window at the UK in the same way.
Maybe it’s the jetlag. Usually, when I’m this disorientated, we’ve just landed in Tokyo and the whole world seems like a slightly odd dream. Today though, we’re at Heathrow, which is a place I’ve been more times than I care to think about and hence should feel comfortingly familiar. It seems that it’s not just me that’s feeling confused though. We’re all saying our goodbyes and "see you tomorrow"s when Jon Hopkins (Viva collaborator and creator of wonderful audio visual chaos in his capacity as support act) looks quizzically and insists that tomorrow is a day off. He has plans for a day of recovery, phone off, curtains shut. Once we tell him what day it is, he slowly comes to realise that it is indeed the first UK show day tomorrow. No rest for the wicked, indeed….
Normally, there would be a week to ten days between touring legs. Someone somewhere has decided though, that it’s time to see what we’re made of. A lot of folks on the crew flew pretty much straight out of the Phoenix load-out and hit the ground running putting the UK rig together in Sheffield. We haven’t really had a good bout of jetlag-twisted working since the promo run right at the start of the tour. Everyone is fried and adrift going into the first show. Communication for the first couple of days is limited mainly to grunts and nods. As I write this in Sheffiled, the clock on the wall says 6pm, but my body insists that it’s two in the morning. By the time the first show is over, it’ll be well past 6am where my body thinks it is. Coffee, how I love thee…
It’s hard to tell how the first show back here in the UK went. When I arrive a couple of days later in Birmingham, there is a newspaper review doing the rounds in catering claiming that the band were on form but the crowd were a little disappointing. Who knows, perhaps they were jetlagged too? During the acoustic section of the first Birmingham show, Chris admits to the crowd that after doing 80 shows this year without doing a single proper gig in the UK, he felt a little like an unfaithful lover returning home – not knowing whether his key would still work in the front door. I think it’s fair to say that their possessions haven’t been thrown out in the street, but it does feel like they’re getting a bit of a stern look.
It’s really hard to tell though, whether it’s just a case of cultural differences. The crowd seem to be enjoying themselves plenty, it’s just felt a little quiet. Perhaps the whooping and screaming that would have seemed so over-the-top when first arriving in the USA or the bonkers football-style chants that greeted them in France and Italy have all become "the norm" now. The British are famous for being slightly polite and reserved. Perhaps we only come to realise exactly why that is when we’ve been away long enough to notice the difference?
Perhaps the crowds just need a little encouraging to loosen up and join in? It’s clearly hitting the band though, – when Chris closes The Scientist (now being played in full down on the main stage) by dropping into a cover of Take That’s Back For Good, the line "Whatever you want, just tell me the song and I’ll sing it" seems almost a genuine plea. As ever, when there is a challenge, the engine room of the band in the shape of Mr Champion, goes into overdrive. He’s not giving in, giving up or putting up. He’s giving the kit absolute hell in his complete determination to bring the room to life. If he wasn’t already called "Will Champion" you’d really have to suggest a name change…
The joy of three shows in one venue is the fact that there is a glorious day in the middle with no load in and no load out. For the crew, this is utter luxury. Also tonight, we’re all staying in the same hotel, so there’s chance for a bit of a social. As ever, there is much drinking involved and a late finish. Special note must be made of Mr Dave Favorita, the lighting crew chief, who decided after a hard day at the gig and at the hotel bar, that a long hot bath was in order. It transpires that in his somewhat relaxed state, he woke in the bath to realise that he’d drifted off with the taps still running.
Quite how much time had passed is unclear, but it was enough to not only put the bathroom under an inch of water, but also to soak his luggage – which was all the way over on the other side of his hotel room. Dave apparently went to the front desk and calmly asked for a new room as he wasn’t happy with the plumbing where he was.
In celebration the following day, the wall in catering was adorned with a picture from the newspaper of a man trudging through a flooded Venice waist deep in water, annotated with the words ‘Disaster Dave’. It has also been suggested that he now be referred to as Noah. Myself, I think that falling asleep in the bath is very dangerous (and by his own admission, he does it regularly). I have added a snorkel to the runner’s shopping list tomorrow which should ensure he stays with us for a long time to come. Safety first….
So the day rolls around to showtime and we’re a little unsure how it’s going to go. The band though, are clearly up for the challenge tonight. Yellow draws to a close and Chris turns his mic for the crowd to sing the ending. He makes it clear that he wants to hear the last line sung to the rafters. "Not loud enough, one more" can be seen as a terrible singer’s cliche, but quite simply, it works. by the third time, they’re fully alive.
It’s the kick that everyone needs to start the engine – and they’re off. It seems that indeed, what’s required is a little encouragement. Tonight then, marks the first show when the culture shock of being home has worn off, – when the band have remembered how to play to a British crowd. Fix You ends with the proper choir of voices and the show goes on to get better and better. We even get the glowstick mobile phones tonight – and when the fellas return for the final encore, the Viva chant is in full force. Chris sits at the piano and joins in, then stops immediately to express his complete shock. "No way, you’re perfectly in tune" he says hitting the first chord again just to confirm it. They are too. Simply amazing. Confidence restored and a job well done.
With no load-out and one more Birmingham show tomorrow, I decide to walk straight back to the hotel. I get outside and I’m immediately caught up in the huge procession of folks leaving the venue. I can’t remember ever having done this before – and it’s great. People are walking along the canal bank four deep, chatting about how good a show it was and how much they enjoyed it. I have to say I’m in agreement.
Well, that’s a very wordy blog, so to make up for it, here’s a clip of Life In Technicolor ii closing the second Birmingham show.