Live, all the way from Belfast
Hello? Hey mate, cant talk much, on the mobile, its 26 degrees here, see you Tuesday, Bye.
That was the cue to unpack and start packing again. I was off on tour with the band in Canada but had packed for -5C to around 10C so thermals were taken out and shorts and t-shirts put in.
Tuesday morning came round quickly enough, or should I say Monday night. Do you know all the times Ive said I wouldn’t do something again only to go ahead and do it? I think it was Einstein who said that repeating the same thing over and over again expecting a different result was a sign of madness.
So there I was standing in the cold rain at Belfast Europa bus station at 2am waiting for the gates to open to get the bus to Dublin airport for an early morning flight to Canada. The last time I did this I had the sense to go to Dublin the day before and stay overnight in the airport hotel. Not an option this time due to work commitments in Belfast and driving down and parking wasn’t really an option either.
I don’t really sleep when travelling but the old nodding dog was making an appearance on the bus down to Dublin at this time in the morning. I got into the airport only to find the flight delayed by at least 3 hours, probably 5. My mood didn’t lighten, I could have spent that time in bed, got the later more regular bus and… well you get the picture.
At least I got a food voucher and got tore into my traditional fry down at Dublin airport. First started back in 1998 whilst a few of us were waiting for a flight to Norway via London.
One of the things I discovered about Dublin airport is that all the chairs in the departure lounge have arms on them, so stopping scumbags like me just lying across 2 or 3 of them to get some shuteye. Its also unfortunate to try and pick a quiet part of the airport to get the head down as well meaning people keep coming up and waking you up in case you missed your flight. Hard to get mad at people for doing that, sort of endearing really.
It was my first time flying with Westjet as they had newly opened this Dublin to Canada route. Westjet have a good rep for a low cost airline and their social media presence is good (google their christmas ad) and it was a handy flight from Dublin. The flight was to Saskatoon via Toronto and via St Johns in Newfoundland. The plane at Dublin was scarily small for crossing the Atlantic, a 737, but when you realise that Dublin to St Johns is about 4 hours and when you get to ‘Canada’ you aren’t even halfway into your journey to ‘Canada’. Another 4 hours or so to Toronto and another 2 or 3 to Saskatoon, all with small stopovers making sleep pretty much impossible. Its gonna be a long day!
I cleared Canadian customs and immigration in St Johns in an airport about the same size as Belfast City. A lot less hassle than Toronto and Vancouver.
The three legged flight was quite odd, on the international leg meals were served and movies were free, as soon as we touched down, even though on the same plane for the 2nd leg we reverted back to low cost airline.
I cant remember the movies I watched on the plane, to be honest by the time I arrived in Saskatoon I had difficulty remembering my own name. Good job immigration was back in St Johns, a day ago, or a week or whatever.
My friends picked me up in Saskatoon and it was still Monday, even though it was Wednesday, or Tuesday or look just show me my bed, sod jetlag and getting into the timezone, I’m knackered!
I woke up on Wednesday or could be Thursday our time and was thoroughly confused. I keep my cameras and computer on Belfast time to avoid any copyright timestamp issues. It ensures all my photos, no matter where they were taken are all based on the same time zone and so can be verified at that. The phone and tablet were set to local timezone though which can be a problem in Canada where you can drive across time zones and so wake up an hour or two earlier than you should and wonder where the rest of the band are for breakfast. No timezone changes this tour though, just wondering what the hell day today is. We had a couple of days before the tour started but it was going to be a push. Previous trips Id spent a couple of days in a stopover before arriving on tour to get used to the time zone, with work load back home this would be packing a lot into just less than 3 weeks with working the day before and day after at home. Ah well, can sleep when Im dead.
Every time I come to North America I put on about a stone in weight (14 pounds – 6.35 kg). I was determined not to do it this time so went out shopping the first day and bought in a lot of ingredient 1 food (i.e. straight ingredients, nothing processed). Id see how long this lasted, particularly on tour where its pretty much breakfast, lunch and dinner at fast food places.
How long did it last? Well about a day and a half then I stopped in to the Broadway diner for a shake and a hotdog!
The first road trip was a double header, a 5 hour drive to a place called Swift Current where we were playing the local Casino, overnight there in a hotel and then on the road for a 2-3 hour drive to the town of Leader. Swift Current was one of the biggest gigs on the tour, Leader one of the smallest. In Swift Current I just told the lighting engineers what sort of lighting I wanted on the stage and what levels, in Leader we brought a series of LED bars with us and set up our own. As we were bringing our own speaker and lighting rigs to Leader we met up with the rest of the band at stupid o’clock in the parking lot of the event hire company complete with U-Haul trailer to bring all the gear down. We had originally planned on all of us going down in the one large minibus but needed a couple of vehicles as everyone would be going in different directions after the 2nd gig. Our wee convoy left again at stupid o’clock but not before stopping off at Tim Hortons for a cup of warm brown and something which was called a steak sandwich. Id left my bananas and ingredient 1 stuff in the house!
6 hours later we were unloading the gear backstage at the Casino. With it being a Casino there were a lot of restrictions on the photography side of things so instead of my usual wandering around getting some atmosphere shots, the cameras were consigned to the green room and I went to help out with the sound check and the lighting.
Not doing any photography before the green room prep shots just added to the first night of the tour nerves. As the guys got dressed into the stage dress the room went very quiet, everyone very businesslike. For my part I was ensuring that everything was ready to wire the photos out, get selected images out on social media and push the first part of the tour as far as we could to get the whole media ball rolling. With everything ready we got the 5 minute curtain call.
I started out on the floor, worked my way to the wings and then backstage for the 2nd half of the show. Id shoot 5 minutes of the 2nd half and then get down to processing, editing and wiring out the photos.
I finished up just behind the drummer and crawled back through the blackout curtains through to the backstage area, went down the stairs, grabbed a bottle of water from catering and straight to my station in the green room. I opened the laptop lid, put the first card in the card reader and looked at the screen…
‘downloading updates, please wait, do not turn off your computer’
How? What? Why? and many more expletives. Waiting what seemed like forever I eventually got into my computer, downloaded, processed, edited and then wired out the first batch of 20 odd photos. My bottle of water remained untouched as finally I could breathe and tried to find out why my fecking laptop decided to check and download updates when it wasn’t scheduled to do that sort of thing until the middle of the night…
…except that it was the middle of the night, according to the time zone on my computer…
… I schedule the updates for 3am so it doesn’t do this sort of thing at home, but of course with the time difference, I was sitting down to laptop at three minutes past three Belfast time.
Yes, its easy to work out in hindsight and chalk another one up to experience! Id need to wire the rest in later so when the guys were out playing poker, visiting strip clubs or nightclubs and getting up to everything else that a band does on the road, Id be sitting in my hotel room wiring photos in.
Well as far as you know that’s what I did.
You probably know that’s exactly what I did.
I woke up about 6am local time the next morning and thought that meeting the guys for breakfast at 8am was optimistic for a lot of reasons. I was disappointed to wake up and find my roommate sleeping and not find piles of cash, hookers and drugs about the place. Not exactly the rock and roll lifestyle to get up, get some cereal and then walk out into town to take some photos. Or maybe it is and they all lie too. Instead of busting caps in peoples asses and throwing guitars out windows they go to bed with a vitamin enhanced water and a gel eye mask.
It wasn’t my turn to drive this leg of the tour so I went out into the cold morning to walk the couple of miles into Swift Current. I asked at reception for directions to town and they said to go out turn right for half a mile, turn right for a mile then right again. I said I was walking. They looked confused. Walking to your car? No walking with my feet, into town. Oh we don’t know walking directions….
Do you have a map?
I must have walked for about an hour without seeing a single person. There were plenty of cars on the highway so it wasn’t necessarily the hour this Saturday morning, its just that everyone seemed to do the same thing, walk to car, drive to highway, go somewhere else. I was obviously walking the less used road which suited me down to the ground.
I eventually made my way into the centre of town, just in time to get to the farmers market. Well to get to the farmers market before it opened and before they were legally allowed to sell me anything.
The last time I was here I purchased some organic honey in a mason jar produced by some of the people at a venue we were gigging at. At the airport I was a couple of kg over the weight limit and so the honey had to go. My friends took it and told me they would enjoy it thinking of me!
One of the stalls was selling honey in various sized jars as well as honeycomb and candles made from the beeswax left over. If I could have bought the lot I would have but settled for one jar and some of the honeycomb. Id had real honeycomb straight out of the hive on my mates land in Chile so thought Id try some here.
Id love to have been able to get some of the saskatoon pie and other pies available but it was a long walk back and with no car the likelihood of them making it back in one piece in my backpack was slim.
As I started to walk back I got texts from the guys saying we were all going to miss breakfast and we should meet down in the lobby in about 10 mins. Yeah, thanks guys.
I got back to the hotel to see the guys finishing off breakfast which was lucky because it would be about 3 hours before we would eat again, then 3 more hours after that. So much for the great plan of trying to eat well on the road. At least Id bought some fruit at the farmers market.
The weather had turned dull and overcast with a definite chill in the air, driving down in shorts yesterday seemed to be such a long time ago now. Today was going to be a long day with the 3 hour drive to the gig, setting up, the gig itself and then the 4-5 hour drive home. I was sort of used to the time zone but a mental note to self to never ever do this again, at least a week acclimatising or at the very least, sleep overnight or on the plane or something.
We arrived in Leader, drove past Leader, went back again and realised it was Leader and then found the gig. We got the stage keys then went to the local restaurant to wait on the rest of the guys who had taken the trailer via the main highway not the backroad we took.
I’ll just have soup, I’ll just have soup, I’ll have the quarter pounder with fries please… damn!
After the substantial lunch I thought I’d better go for a walk with the cameras and do some background shots on Leader for the tour booklet later in the year. I was also scouting out some locations for promo shots as we went along and this was one of those wee grain towns with its full grain tower. All these wee towns are apparently 10 miles apart along the railroad because that’s what the rail company thought was the optimal distance for gathering up wheat and grain from neighbouring farms. The old style grain elevators were disappearing to be replaced by modern grain storage tanks so places like this say Saskatchewan and Canadian grain fields more than anything else.
The loadout tonight would be quick and straight after the gig so Id have to wire the photos in on the road on the way back and process the rest tomorrow at home. There wasn’t as much pressure on tonight, well for me anyway, as we had a good set of images from the first gig but this was more intimate and with the grain elevator a good choice to get some promo photos before the gig and get them up on social media before we even started.
The gig went well and the loadout went smoothly. I went inside to thank the organisers and collect the laptop and wiring equipment when I heard a scream from outside.
I went out to see nothing, just one of the vans with the tailgate open. I went over to see one of the guys calling for help and one of the team lying at the foot of a wall at the edge of the car park. The merchandise guy had been loading the minivan and had taken a step back in the dark without realising there was a low wall and a four foot drop behind him. I dumped my gear on the ground and climbed down with him and shouted for coats and a first aid kit. I hadn’t brought mine with me and the reason I couldn’t make it down to Dublin the night before I left was that I was finally getting round to doing a first aid course and that was the only time they could fit me in.
I managed to get the guys organised and sorted them out into jobs and to get ready to call in an ambulance. It was then one of those times that you realise where on earth you are and that the nearest ambulance for major injuries is a trauma helicopter a couple of hundred kilometres away.
The casualty was pretty calm but it was bitterly cold and we were all wearing t-shirts due to the loadout and the heat in the hall. It was hard to tell if it was just cold or shock setting in. Eventually I worked out that he had just jarred his knee as he fell and there was nothing broken and no bleeding. A very lucky escape in more ways than one, particularly as despite having 3 vehicles and a trailer, someone had forgotten to pack the first aid kit! To be fair though, if he had broken his leg there would be little in the first aid kit to help.
Must remember to keep my phone charged and another good reason for always getting a local sim card when on the road in a foreign country.
The first hour or two back in the car was subdued, I think we all did fear the worst but then the banter kicked in and we resorted to slagging off ‘trainee superman’.
Alls well that ends well and Ive never been so glad for my head to hit the pillow, well not for a couple of days anyway.