Friday, 17 August 2018

Luck

"Don't play the bongo while we're driving!" I barked as we sped along the autobahn. "I'm not" said the piano player from the back seat. I looked across at the bass player sitting co-pilot, "I heard it too" he said as he turned down the music. And then it dawn on all three of us, our necks snapped back in unison, the boot was wide open and the bongo had fallen out! We skidded to a stop, cut the engine, dreading what else had fallen and what damage it could have done to innocent drivers trying to dodge bass amps and trumpets. We chanced our way to the back of the van, cars thumping past us like angry wasps, the heat of the tarmac was like walking on a hotplate. A quick inspection found nothing else missing. We glanced down the highway, standing perfectly upright in the middle of the road was the bongo. The bass player bounded off, his orange hair like flickering flames in the heat distortion. He tiptoed into the blaze, scooping the drum into his arms like it was a runaway toddler. "It's only a scuff, she still plays" he said after slamming the boot so hard the van nudged forward. "We were lucky."

And we were. During the whole of the 1200 mile mini-tour to Lott Festival, we were lucky. Lucky to be able to borrow a decent affordable van. Lucky that the bass player's work didn't put a spanner in the our path. Lucky to be able to travel with good friends through beautiful lands and get paid to do it. Lucky to be looked after so well by our friends on the continent. Everything seemed to fall into place in just the right way. 




Weeks ago when we gatecrashed Lafrowda Day and played a gorilla gig almost in protest at being overlooked once again, there was an air of defeat as we shared out £40 from CD sales between the four of us. Scant reward for a day's work and scarcely worth the fuel down. Luck seemed a long way off then. But you speculate to accumulate, and a few days later a fan got in touch, he'd seen us play and wanted to book us for a festival in Truro. And it just so happened that the day they offered was the day we were beginning our latest adventure and so a slight detour to a children's circus was well worth the while, particularly for the much needed revenue towards our many, many miles ahead. 


Later on in Bristol; noodle soup and a bad horror movie; we stole an early night and rose with the dawn. Despite getting to Folkestone early we missed our connection by faffing in the service station and arrived in Calais behind schedule. We were further delayed trying to find a petrol station and drove around a small town 3 times before a mobile baker took pity on us and led us there in convoy. Tanked up, we hit the pencil straight roads like an arrow and clawed back some time. Antwerp's roadworks were navigated with relative ease and we pulled up outside Cafe Den Hopsack for the 2nd time this year. Unload, un-pack, set-up, trip over the wires, get in each other's way, drop the keyboard, forget to tune the instruments, eat a plate of food, drink a beer, drink another, smile to the friends, count the crowd, play the songs, forget to sell merchandise, order a round of drinks, then another, stand at the bar and sing songs with new fans, arm in arm like old friends, wobble out into the warm evening and roll in at dawn. Night's in Antwerp usually follow the same patten. It's our 4th time here in 3 years and each time the welcome's warmer.

The next morning we're all a little listless;
 we we need eggs. We ride the tram into the centre looking for the perfect spot and then bundle into a cafe under the scratch of a hangover. A round of orange juice takes the edge off but the boiled egg is a frustrating option; it's like peeling a hot coal and it's over in a mouthful. We order another which only seems to makes the problem worse and does little to alleviate our hunger but it's all we can afford. We head to Den Hopsack, load up the van and then post the key back through number 11, amazed and honoured that we are entrusted with the keys to a cafe with 800 beers behind the bar! We say goodbye to our Belgian friends and head south, not stoping until the bongo falls out on the autobahn. God know's how long the boot's been open, perhaps that's why the petrol is disappearing faster than normal, we could have been driving like this for miles, unable to see the car's flashing us cause of the bright sun, unable to hear their horns cause the wind is blowing in and the music is on. Hot and bothered, we pull off the autobahn and climb up to an old volcanic crater lake called Pulvemaar. We can see people swimming so we strip off, duck under a cordon and slip into the clear waters. It's only when we are getting changed again that we read of people disappearing in the whirlpools in the centre and that you must only swim in the designated areas. Oops, seems luck was on our side again. The last fews miles are breathtaking as we cross the Eifel Range and arrive at Lott Festival. We meet Geia, the booker, she has kind eyes and we warm to her immediately. Her first impression of us might be slightly tested though as we turn up late, bare foot and without any of the correct paperwork. She sends a runner off to collect our hotel keys cause we've failed to read any of the emails instructing us to do this on the way. But there is a warmth about her as she talks to us and she smiles a lot. "You have to buy into the spirit of this place." she says waving her hands around like a painter. We take a beer and a plate of food and walk around the site, sitting up on the hill that focuses down onto a huge stage. The evening light is done and electric beams flash out across the sky, a huge roar welcomes a band on stage and suddenly the peace is broken and thousands of German's gear themselves up for another night. We slip off to our hotel, back down the mountain, to the banks of the Mosel, with it's steep vineyards, past fairytale towns with castles on the hill.
  
Lott Festival

The next morning I wake up early and print off all the relevant documents, determined to be more professional. We arrive in good time for the sound check and remember to tune our instruments. The sun's out and people are starting to surface. I'm worried that we're just going to disappear on that big stage; we'll be lost; too static on the box drum, too limited to a single kick. If ever we needed the numbers this was it. 19 people have donned our colours, if only we could have just one of them now. "We've gotta trust our sound" says the bass player and he's right. No point worrying about what's missing. Focus on what you've got. I take a deep breath and climb the stairs to the giant stage, imagining the reception you'd get with an evening slot at this place. It's hard to say how many people are out there, they are all spread up the hill, lolling about in the sun. It's a lovely view from up here. We bring them down, a nice crowd forms at the front as we play through our songs. We finish up and take a bow, then sell 14 CD's at the merch desk at the side, talking with new fans and soaking up the praise as humbly as we can. Geia is pleased, "You guys should stay and play for the crew at the party tonight!".
I set out to persuade the others; postpone a work commitment and change the crossing home, but we're all keen. We take a few beers and skip out into the sunshine, dancing to the next band, in the dry heat, with the happy people. We sit with Geia up on the hill in that golden hour, late afternoon, rusty coloured. "The festival finishes early today, and then it's our time" she smiles, a culmination of months of work no doubt. "6pm and they all go home" her hands are painting again. "Tomorrow the kids go back to school, it's realfuckinglife again!"


And she's right, the last band bow, there is a huge cheer and then thousands leave, the hill empties and we are left with 300 crew. We set up at on the grass, powered by a 4-way extension lead, totally unfazed by the impromtu; immune to the demands other bands would make, able to play at the drop of a hat, spontaneous, on the grass, in bare feet. So perhaps our spirit is rubbing off on Lott now. People dance and cheer, the sun dips and flickers. It's a wicked light. Others join us; on violin, on harmonica, on hand drums, and then we step aside and they use our instruments and we watch them. 6 tractors pull up with large trailers and people run to greet them, "Jump on" says Geia, "this is a tradition at Lott" and so we oblige, squeezing into one wagon with 30 others, and holding on tight as we lurch forward up to the top of the hill. We sing 'whisky drunk', we raise our bottles at this extraordinary scene; in the purple dusk, with quads like terriers at our feet, kicking up the dust. 6 tractors on the hilltop, like drunken 
tractors in the dusk
pirate ships swaying and singing songs at each other across the bay. This is the spirit of Lott. In the twilight, here amongst strangers fast becoming friends. I catch the bass player's eye, no words, a look is enough. This is a moment we won't forget. We party with them; the people of Lott. We dance and make merry and then we ride a taxi home, back down the mountain to the fairytale town.

It's farewell to Geia in the morning and we're grateful to have met her. "You're taking the spirit with you!" she smiles and we set off on a 13 hour journey back to 'realfuckinglife'. The way home is hopelessly long, insufferably hot, but we are all smiling at another great adventure. Blessed that this is our job. That that we can bring our music to weird and wonderful places, to meet beautiful people in strange lands and have a little money at the end. And it's hard work, but it is rewarding, and it reaffirms your desire to keep going. Keep adapting. Keep learning. Not just as a band, but as people. 
And we'll keep that 'spirit' too.  And here's to luck. You play your part. I'll tip my hat to you.

And the boot stayed closed all the way home.    

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