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So I leave for Italy via London to play two festivals-one in Rome,one in Parma.As the plane descends into Rome, the Mediterranean sea is immediately below me to one side, to the other, the Italian landscape looks beige and parched of the rain which gives the English landscape its deep green hue.Its 33 and its gonna be a hot few days.
I am picked up at the airport and given a large bottle of water (they know all about my dehydration issues due to my lack of large intestine)-its a nice touch,necessary and very welcome.Emanuele apologises that the water has warmed slightly and I'm reminded of how easy it could be to turn into a diva "I said the water must be 2 degrees-TWO DEGREES!!" I'm dropped off at a smart hotel.Once in my room I could be anywhere-I have a conspiracy theory that the worlds' hoteliers have a secret annual meeting,Bilderberg style,in which they all agree upon how their rooms will look.
Doing shows and the travel it entails is tiring and I've learned that one part of the day I dig is that dead time between your arrival at a hotel at 3pm and the soundcheck at 6.You're free to just kick off your Converse, lie on the bed and relax away the miles you just put on.I throw open the doors to the balcony,strip down to me boxers (like I said-its bloody hot!) and get horizontal.The birds are singing.Its all good and I enter that pleasant half asleep mode.
Picked up as arranged,I'm driven through Rome to the venue.As we pass a model of the Coliseum Emanuele jokes that "there you go,you've seen the Coliseum!' I laugh, I am, of course, fated not to, because as I intimated in a previous blog,I've been to Brussels/Paris/London/Rome/Amsterdam etc etc and all I get to see is a stage and a hotel almost every time!
The Mojo Station Blues Festival is situated downtown beneath a suitably impressive (and unfeasibly high) Ancient Roman aquaduct.The heat is incredible.As I sit down to soundcheck I notice that my forearms are sweating and I havent even done anything.The soundcheck complete, I go backstage, taking note of the copious amounts of bottled water on offer-I'll be drinking them dry-I have no intention of letting my empty belly beat me.
I walk around the festival as the sun goes down-the venue has things going on both inside and outside-the outside is wonderfully romantic, the climate allowing the organisers to place shabby leather sofas and mattress/couches and cushions in little alcoves,lit by candlelight.It is a mediterranean lifestyle most unlike anything the weather would allow for in England.I drink steadily to ensure success.
Eventually it's showtime-Gianluca (the super nice promoter dude who brought me out here) introduces me and I take up position.As I strike up Jolene I notice that the guitar sound is completely clean-uh oh-a valve has probably blown in the heat-I desperately turn the distortion on full-nothing..just Fender twang.
trying to find some distortion!
I play on and notice the punters are digging it anyway.I decide to just plough on regardless.The audience are great-up for a good time.
At the end of my set I am joined by Angelo Leadbelly Rossi and his drummer who have expressed a desire to jam a few numbers with me.Its fun to play with others for a change and we jam out three numbers before I retire.I get to my room in the early hours and sleep.I have a long day ahead of me..
In the morning I'm dropped off at the railway station,having been provided with tickets to Parma.Its a bit of a trek-like going from Southern to Northern England say.I board the train.Its so hot its a little like being slowly cooked as you travel.I can feel telltale signs that its beginning to effect me adversely,so I walk down to the buffet carriage and order a coke and some bread (I missed breakfast).I look out the window as the Italian countryside passes by me like Van Gogh is painting it,the pallet is warm beige,greens and a pure, azure sky.Ancient villages cling to hillsides as they have for centuries,defying the passage of time.Only the Italians can make shabby look oh so chic.I still feel rough so I purchase another drink and ponder how I might survive a summer tour in these conditions..I'd really have to rest up during the day in order to perform at night,vampire style.Mind you,I had to do that on tour in Northern Europe anyway.The second drink makes me feel better.
After 4 hours or so I disembark and am met at the station by three lovely Parma Festival organisers.They put me in the front seat-perhaps they know I get carsick-anyway,I'm grateful, because me and cars dont get on at all-never have.The sweat trickles down my temples-as we drive they point out a bridge the Mafia have had built-a bizarre structure-like a metal and glass bubble wrapped around a bridge-its construction has caused scandal in these parts and one can see why simply from an aesthetic viewpoint,aside from any dodgy backhanders-it stands brash and incongruous amid the otherwise understated historic vernacular it resides in-a brutish monstrosity of modernity.
They take me to a nice cool restaurant and I down a big bottle of cold water-fabulous.There is a cool breeze and I really feel ok now.I am dropped off at a hotel in a sleepy town (yay-rest time comin!) but whats this? this hotelier clearly doesn't attend those Bilderberg hotelier meetings..this is pure mediterranean-beautiful adobe walls,rough hewn wooden beams,planks making up the ceiling,wooden shutters on the windows..lovely..things get even better-it has air con! I turn it up high,strip off and enjoy a few hours pre-soundcheck rest.Sigh.
Arriving at the Festival site is something else-situated on the banks of a wide,slow moving river,which someone refers to as the Italian Mississippi-his metaphor is rather apt-it really does have that feel.The whole thing is outdoors-the stage is huge and the setup is,once again,very pro.I soundcheck and the amp is clean-uh oh.Is this Fenders' revenge? Determined not to repeat the clean guitar sound scenario, the harp player from the other act comes to my rescue with a distortion pedal.Sweet.The sound dudes are polite,enthusiastic and really helpful.The soundcheck is sorted in about 2 minutes flat-cool.
The organisers hand me a festival tee which I immediately put on to show respect.I eat the best pasta I have ever eaten in my life (unsurprising given my location).I'm called to do an interview on the banks of the river-
The guy has really done his homework and knows more about my life than I do! I then relax,chat to the other band and have a little wander.People,a lot of them,arrive and I get the 10 minute call.I pace around.I hear myself getting introduced in Italian-I am stood at the foot of the 5 steps that lead up and onto the stage.A stagehand hands me 2 fresh, crisp white hand towels.Up I go,high fiving the mc as we pass each other onstage.We are off.
The crowd is responsive,I tell little between song stories and jokes,slowing my speech slightly so most can catch it in English.I tell them about cbg's and cigar box nation.
It goes great.The crowd is so large I have to bow centre left and right when I'm done, and wave to those at the back.They want more so I ask the stage manager if he wants me to do one more (see pic).
Encore played and I come off.Job done.My cd they're selling on my behalf sell out.Less to carry home :)
The punters are happy,the organisers are too-and therefor so am I.I feel excited that I will be returning next month to Pontinia rock and blues festival.I am whisked away to my hotel at 2am as I am being picked up at 7 to begin a journey that will take me 17 hours.(No flights from Parma on a Sunday so I must return via Rome).
13 hours later I'm sitting on a Westbound train back in England, on the final leg of my adventure.I sit adjacent to two young lovers,who watch a film on a laptop together-she curled around him with her shoes off,he stroking her hair.I remember how that felt when I was their age.I smile to myself,feeling a sense of warmth and loss in equal measure.I look back out the window but its dark and all I see is my reflection-people used to say I had angry eyes as a young man, but now they look so much like my late mothers..theres a sadness about them.I cup my hands so I can see through the glass.In the inky darkness beyond only two things are visible-the lopsided smile of a crescent moon and the street lights.The warm beige glow of the moon reminds me of the Italian landscape I travelled through just hours before-its natural sunlit beauty is juxtaposed with the garish electric street lamps-mans crude attempts at light creation.
My wife is due to meet me at the station and when I disembark we catch sight of each other on the platform.At exactly the same moment the same thing happens to both of us-two invisible hooks pull at the side of our mouths and we break out into involuntary superwide smiles.I realise that time has not,after all, robbed me of what those young lovers have-I'm home and its all good.