An Albatross weekend

How time flies…it’s hard to imagine that it was just over a year ago that we played the reunion show in Dongen but that is indeed the case. This time we got brave and decided to play two shows!! lol

The first one was in Goes, a town we played many, many times during the Albatross years. In fact, I can still vividly remember the first time we played there. We were slated to play in a place called De Pompe and my first experience of Goes happened before we even got into the pub.

You see, it was during the famous Dutch Carnival and it was the first time I’d ever seen it. The pub is located on the market square, so there are lots of pubs there and of course during the carnival there were lots and lots of people there too – all dressed up in their crazy costumes. It was sheer madness and the other thing I noticed was the fact that they were all pretty well juiced up (fairly drunk in other words). Amazingly, they all seemed in really good humour and I have to admit that was the first time I had ever seen so many drunk people in one place and no sign of trouble.

Anyway, after getting over the shock my next thought was – how the heck are we ever going to get away with playing power blues-rock in the middle of all this. We pushed our way into the club only to discover that it was ‘tight’ (in other words quite small) and it was packed. We were travelling with our own PA and lighting systems at that time and we brought it all in and set it up because…well, because that’s what we did for every gig!! I can’t remember if we put the guitar amps on top of the bass stack or the power rack for the lights on top of the drummer’s head but in the end the stage area looked more like a block of high-rise flats than a country farm, that’s for sure.

Again because we knew no other way of doing things we hit ’em right between the eyes with our first song…fully expecting to be dragged off stage or something like that but to our delight they loved it. See, the thing was, the owner deliberately put on blues/rock music during the carnival because it was a rock-pub and he hated all that oom-pah-pah music so in fact we were in exactly the right place at the right time. It turned out to be a great place to play and like I said, we played it many, many times after that.

So, back to the present. This time we were playing at ‘t Beest, a really fine venue with a decent stage, good-sized hall and great crew. The gig was part of the annual Goes Blues Route, which basically means there are blues bands playing all over town. They start things off in ‘t Beest (we were on at 8.30pm) and then after that gig is finished all the other places start, so we had a full house with lots of familiar faces from the old days. It was about as perfect as a gig can be and I know I will treasure the memories of it for a long time to come.

I should mention here that we had a ‘special guest’ for the w/end in the form of Ralph Schraven – yes, the same Ralph who did such a great job of making the Reunion Show CD sound as good as it does. It was great to have another guitar player rip off some solos and to get to listen to someone else play new lines in familiar songs. He also added some nice harmonies, so we actually had three singers, which was great. A good night was had by all and thanks to Peter Kempe from the Juke Joints for his input in making it happen!!

The next day we had to get our butts to Vroomshoop, which is in the east of Holland (quite close to the German border). It’s a small town in the province of Drente and right in the heart of the Dutch countryside. The weather was also on our side (sunny autumn day) so the drive was very pleasant.

We found the street easily enough but had trouble locating the club. After driving into a few wrong alleyways we decided to ask somebody if they knew where The Front was and their answer (to our embarrassment was) – right in FRONT of you – and sure enough there it was, so even though the front was in front of us we hadn’t noticed it (the only excuse I can offer is that it was slightly off the road) – or maybe it was past time for a coffee!!

We had never played this club before so that was nice, to play a new place with Albatross. Again, it was another fine-sized club and everything was exactly as you hope it will be. The soundcheck went fast enough and was trouble free. The monitor man complimented us on how professional we were. See, the poor ol’ monitor man most always pulls the short straw. Apart from the fact that he’s in the ‘danger zone’ (even though he’s off stage he’s still close enough to be hassled) a lot of musicians don’t really know what they want in their monitors, so they usually ask for “lots of me and a little bit of everyone else”. Now, that’s fairly open to interpretation, isn’t it, so of course when they start playing, and the band plays louder live than during the soundcheck, the first thing the monitor man has to deal with is everyone shouting at him – at the same time and the ‘order’ is usually as clear as mud. One example is; guitarist shouting “up a bit”, to which of course the monitor man has to wonder “what do you want up a bit – your guitar, your vocal, the height of the stage or your trousers?”

Then there is the ‘dirty look’ approach. They don’t actually say anything specific to the monitor man, they just give him a dirty look and from that he’s supposed to deduce what could possibly be upsetting them.

So, the way you do it is – during soundcheck you either elect one person to speak on behalf of all the band members so that the monitor man knows immediately who he has to deal with (only one person in his face) – or if everyone wants to deliver their own order then you do it calmly and more importantly – each in turn!! Again, if things need to be tweaked during the show (and they often do) you either wait until the song is over and then go and talk quietly to him or you indicate clearly what you need and you give him time to sort it. All in a day’s work!!

We had the pleasure of listening to a set from the support band called NUTS. They are also in the blues-rock field and they are local, so they had their stuff set up basically already when we got there. While we were waiting to soundcheck I just happened to play the riff from “Oh Well” and their guitarist picked up on it. OK, I thought to myself, try this one and started playing the chords to the song “Albatross” to which he fired off just about a perfect version of the main part, the instrumental melody line and then to really rub it in he said – “I used to play that song years ago”. Moments like that are just great and what being on the road is all about.

I was reminded of how much we actually toured as Albatross because again there were people who’d seen us many times when we played in that part of the country when we were in our ‘tour, tour, tour’ frame of mind. In fact, we used to get that all the time about Rory – no matter where we played, someone had seen Rory live either in that same small town or somewhere close by and usually numerous times. I guess we’ve done our 10,000 hours but I can’t say for sure if you ever attain true expertise. It seems to me like that’s more of an ongoing process – but it’s a nice idea from Malcolm all the same and it certainly helps explain why guys like Clapton, McCartney, etc. are still going strong.

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