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Big Time In Bratislava: Back To Front

Back To Front, 5th May 2014: Big Time In Bratislava

Star of Soundcheck - A Personal Experience by Jan Richter

I have met my god, I have met my guru, my teacher, my soul-mate, my advisor and my "second father", Mr. Peter Gabriel, in a very special way and it was great and terrifying at once. I've decided to divide this story into few sections, since I feel I owe people explanation about my feelings towards PG, so the fellow "lunatics" would have at least some assuring that the guy, who was chosen by stars to enjoy PG’s attention and personal show, was not just some random by-stander but real die hard Peter Gabriel fan.

Part 1: Lunatic

I was born in 1986, five days before the Chernobyl disaster and aproximately one month before the release of Peter's 5th solo album So. There was still an "iron curtain" in Czechoslovakia those days and the recent "western" recording was almost impossible to find and obtain. While Peter gabriel was touring the world with Amnesty and his This Way Up tour, my dad managed to find a tape recorder version of Peter Gabriel: Plays Live and he would hold me on his chest and dance with me to a tunes of this record. So along with other things needed for every day baby survival, I was also learning what is music, how does it sound and I was absorbing and carving into my infant heart the menacing voice of this man, coming from speakers. The Family and The Fishing Net, The Rhythm of The Heat and Family Snapshot were interesting starters for such young mind and there is no doubt this stuff had left a huge mark on me. To this day Peter Gabriel IV is my most beloved record ever.

28 Years had passed and I own every Peter Gabriel record in number of versions. I attended and travelled to a number of his shows, I've saw every video he has recorded, I’ve actually probably saw every video of him everyone has ever recorded and I’ve read every possible article or interview written in English to this day. Closely watching his moves, following what he is following or doing (Amnesty, The Elders, Witness etc…), pre-ordering everything related to him etc … It may sound a bit weird, but every fellow lunatic would understand. I would end here now. I do not want to bore anyone with my personality, I only want you to know, that I can certainly appreciate what had happened to me.

Sztar Of Soundcheck 1Part 2: Great news

It everything started with a great news, that Peter will be touring Europe again in 2014. I've immediately picked the nearby cities around Czech Republic and managed to buy the tickets. This time, I've also bought the "Behind The Scenes Package" for the shows in Bratislava, SK and Ostrava, CZ. My plan was to attend Bratislava show, then travel to Budapest the next day and enjoy another show there. My employer have offices in both of this cities so I even did not have to take a days off. Aproximately two months before my first show in Bratislava I was contacted by a very nice lady from tour production with a kind message, that I am unfortunately the only one who have bought the BTS package for Bratislava show. (I must say that in this point of her email, I started to be worried thinking that because of that, the Behind The Scenes experience would be cancelled). Instead of cancelling, I was offered to take someone else with me, so I would not have to travel alone. In this point, my imagination started to work (as well as my selfishness) and I started to dream about how I would be alone in the arena and the band would play only for me at that point. I've assured this nice lady I would be there alone, joked about Peter inviting me onstage and making some more silly jokes like that for her to have a good laugh.

As the D-Day was approaching, I've started to dream more and more about the day. I was brave enough to imagining the situation, when Peter would shake my hand from stage. But this was too much! "Don't be so dare" I was saying to myself. "It would be enough if Peter would just smile at you or even wave his hand for you".

Part 3: 5th May 2014

The day had come and surprisingly enough, everything went smoothly. My journey from Prague to Bratislava was flawless and I even found a good parking spot near the arena where the show took place. I was supposed to be there at 3PM and I was little nervice about stuff of the arena really knowing the whole thing and I was ready to wave my hand full of printed papers with tickets, email communication and stuff like that. I was handed over to this Slovakian guy. Very nice, friendly and cheered fellow. I was taken to this room full of people with walkie-talkies, computers and stuff and since this was my first look behind the curtains of such a huge show, I was pretty amazed. I am musician myself, I've played few nice bigger gigs including major festivals, but this was something new. I was handed over to this most pleasant and beautiful lady (let's call her Mrs. Hepburn) and she took care of me since then. I was presented with this bag with a tour programme and a hard paper box with selection of 10 Peter Gabriel encore shows throughout the years. Great collectors stuff!

Star Of Soundcheck 2We went to venue and the stage was already finished. Ben Findlay was standing in his sound engineer place in center of the venue and other guys from stuff was walking around the stage. We've had a lovely chat with Mrs. Hepburn and I was telling her my story with PG all the way through. I was telling her the names of all the guys wondering around the stage (Tony Levin photo diary web can be good studying material) and basically just boldly showing how much I know about PG and his team in order to cover my growing nervosity.

Suddenly Dickie came greet me and in this moment I was starting to wandering elsewhere in my head. From this moment, everything started to be a little distorted. Not my sight or self-presence, but somehow more like a dream, because what was happening was so outta this world. Dickie came to me saying: "Hi Jan". He knew my name! And he presented me with a wireless sound gear, so I could hear the sound check right from the soundboard. Allright! I think Mrs. Hepburn just started to see, that there is one man dream just coming true. She was very empathically and supportive which felt good in that moment.

THE guys just started coming to the stage. David Rhodes, Manu Katche, David Sancious, and girls Linnea and Jennie. Did David Rhodes just smiled at me? OK, hold on, hold on, this is not happening. There we are in the middle of huge arena. Me and lovely Mrs. Hepburn. I am almost shaking (I do not, it only feels like it) and out of the left side of stage, the man who I am following all my life, the man I am listening to since the day I've opened my eyes to this world is there, standing near his piano rig doing something. I am looking his direction, enjoying the moment. He is turning his head my direction, seeing me, smiling, raising hand. I am raising mine as well…. OK. Done. Now I can move on. Another part of my life which needed to be closed is closed and I can go on.

I started to feel bit more relaxed in this moment. I've realized I am here, and they are there, and I am young and everything in life is now possible. I am not joking now in any way. This is what I felt and what I still feel since. But I did not know that this was only beginning.

Part 4: Big Time

Walkie-talkie of Mrs. Hepburn shouted. She kindly turned to me asking me to wait a while. I've told her I would wait ages if she would need me to and she quickly disappeared behind the black curtain on the left side of the stage. Suddenly she came out of it, urging me to follow her which I did. I entered this little hole in black curtain and found myself on the left side of the stage, inside the Peter Gabriel world, near Dickies main soundboard.

Mrs. Hepburn is asking me for my phone, she will be taking photos (of what for heaven's sake?!) and pointing her finger to this little stairs leading on stage. She can't be serious! I did not even dare to dream about this! NO! One step, second step, few more, and I am on stage and there is Peter Gabriel, still turned his back on me making something on his rig. Now, he will turn around and greet me?

Just for a little while I would interrupt the story here just to point a few things about myself. Yes, I am die hard fan, just as you are, and I am totally normal, self-confident guy, with great job, beautiful fiancee, friends, passions and, I would say, with everything in its place. I am frontman of a band and I am used to be in a spotlight. I am used to present things and talk in front of people. Let's just say, asertivity, good attitude, knowledge, passion, honesty, modesty and warm human approach are not just essentials of my work, but my life as a whole. (Part of this is Peter Gabriels merit). I am not saying this because I would like you to know who I am in general. I only want to point out, that even though I thought about myself I would pass this challenge with honor, even though I was somehow preparing myself for meeting Peter Gabriel for 28 YEARS! I must say that I've failed miserably!

Star of Soundcheck 3… I've collapsed. Not physically thank god, but mentally for sure. Peter Gabriel turned to me and shook my hand. I was trying desperately to say something clever. I was prepared to say so many things, but in this moment, if I remember it correctly, I was only able to say "thank you". And I've repeated this line few times. I will always hate myself for this, but from here it starting to be a little blurred and I am not remembering correctly, because majority of it is floating in some kind of beautiful fog. We did a few photos just me and PG and then PG took me by the shoulder and walked with me towards the center of the stage (I think, I told him in this moment something about… that I was waiting for this moment for 28 years and that I am not able to say anything now), and personally introduced me to his band!

"Jan, this is David Rhodes … David, this is Jan", ridiculous!!! This is not happening. This is too much! After this sci-fi moment, Peter arranged this photo where I am in the center and he and the band are pointing at me! Dickie took the photos and Tony Levin as well!.

Now there is him and Tony Levin asking me about my music. Only sensible thing I was able to say was, that I am musician because of Peter Gabriel (PG: "So you are musician?" Me: "Because of you.") and then I only told them that it is hard to describe my tiny little so called music in front of guys like them. Every musician would understand me here I hope. Peter Gabriel and one the world best bassist are asking you what music are you doing? Nonsense. I've probably said something, but since I've immediately forgot it, it was apparently nothing really clever.

Peter said to me they have prepared a chair for me in the center of the stage to enjoy the sound check. (I must laugh now how unearthly lucky I am). He told me to put on the headphones Dickie gave me previously and here comes one of my two "highlights". Peter asked me how my band is called. I've answered: "High Five" and in order to present the meaning of this, I've started clapping my hands in the air furiously. Majority of people knows the meaning of "High Five" and how it looks like, Peter Gabriel included of course. So instead of pointing out the name of my band in a nice and polite manner, I did this. Luckily for me, by that time I didn't realized how stupid I must have looked and carried on.

Part 5: The Soundcheck

First song on the menu was Digging In The Dirt and I don't have to tell you how it felt. Being on the stage with them, witnessing the sound check from best possible place. It was beyond all of my dreams. Another song was No Self Control. Remember that little baby, listening carefully to this song back then on the tape recorder reel? Peter Gabriel Plays Live. The same person was now, 28 years later, on the stage with the very same man and almost the same musicians. It really felt like something in my heart is complete. Like the pieces of puzzles would come together and I've grown a little more at one point.

Star Of Soundcheck 4Sadly enough, my other highlight is coming right after this song, when Peter was crossing the stage to his stage piano to rehearse Why Don't You Show Yourself. He stopped by me to ask if I've brought him my record. And this is where I've lost it.

I've found myself in apocalyptic horror chaos trying to find right words, but somehow clever with referring to something he would find amusing. So instead of saying something like: "No Mr. Gabriel. I did not take it with me. I would never even dare to dream you would ask me such a question so thank you for asking, but unfortunately I did not."

Instead of this, I've remembered this Google interview when Peter was asked this question about a guy, handing over his record to him during his show in California and Peter making a joke out of it, so all I've said was: "Is this is a joke?!". The words which will haunt me till the day I die. This was my reaction to Peter Gabriel asking me about my record. Peter's reaction was the only one he could say in order to safe myself from committing suicide … in polite manner he has informed me that that was not a joke and he meant it. Then he went on and played Why Don't You Show Yourself beautifully.

Mrs. Hepburn was meanwhile making photos to my mobile phone and recorded some of it. When it was over, I was greeted again by all members of the band and finally I was relaxed enough to joke a little. When Linnea thanked me for being there with them. I've told them that they are welcome, but it was just for this one time they were honoured to have me there.

In the end, I think they was amused for having this jawed, shy, mesmerised guy over there and it must have been interesting to see how some boy's dream is coming true.

Part 6: My Head Sounds Like That

After this I came down off stage, gave the headphones to Dickie and thanked everybody. Then we went to VIP zone in the arena where there was lots of food and drinks but my throat was tightened and I even could not talk. It was in this moment when I realized what have just happened and I started to cry. Not much, just a few tears. So I called to everyone I love and I was telling them the story. My dad, mom, fiancee, basically everyone who cares about me and who found out about this miracle cried for me. Because they knew how much of a thing this is for me. So also this was a beautiful moment. I did not eat that much, I was busy calling to people and sharing the story and I've had my neck tightened anyway.

After that, beautiful Mrs. Hepburn took my tour programme and return it back with a written dedication from Peter saying:

Star Of Soundcheck 5"To Jan, star of sound check.
Very good to meet you.
Best of luck with all your music.
Peter Gabriel."

The show afterwards was fantastic with me in the first row. The next day in Budapest was even better (although I did not have much sleep, you can see why). I felt kind of more privileged then all the other people in the audience. It is now me and Peter. I am that guy from the Peters Facebook page.

I would want to stress out one last time, that I do realize how incredibly lucky I am. Not only that I was the only one to buy this Behind the Scenes package in Bratislava (which saddens me at some point either), but even though Peter does not doing this kind of things often, I am the chosen one. I will carry this moments forever. I started to believe, that dreams, no matter how impossible they are seem to be, are achievable if you dream them by all your being. If your wishes are coming from the core of your heart and if you are keen to get up and do something for it, they can be doable. I am not saying that this can happen to anyone who would make a stand, but without trying, you never find out.

Part 7: The Drop

Two weeks from this experience, I was supposed to attend another BTS in Ostrava CZ show. However I had to leave to United States for a business trip so I gave my ticket to my dad. There was more people on the Behind The Scenes experience this time, so there was no personal greets from Peter, but Mrs. Hepburn somehow found out he is my father and managed to get a signed tour programme for him. And there was:

"To Jan
Father of Jan
Peter Gabriel"

by Jan Richter | 2014

Photos by Jan Richter & Tony Levin

Peter Gabriel - Back To Front: tour dates & ticket info 2014
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front: tour reports 2012, 2013 and 2014
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front: Encore Series 2014 review
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front: Live in London (Blu-ray & DVD review)

Editor's note: Please be aware this report is based on the very personal experience by Jan Richter. He was very lucky to be the ONLY Behind The Scnes VIP. The usual procedures for VIP ticket holders are different. Please do not expect to experience the same when puchasing such a ticket.
The Behind The Scenes tickets are available on Peter Gabriel's website here.