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The Last Domino? Tour
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Rocking Horse Music Club

Roger King Diary 2001

Steve Hackett live 2001: A Keyboardist's Diary

by Roger King 

[this article was first published in early 2002 on the German website]

When Steve Hackett toured Latin America in 2001, Roger King was once more his keyboarder. Roger made notes about the tour and decided to share his experiences in a diary of the tour. He then gave us his notes and this is the first time in the history in our fanclub, that we can exclusively publish an article by a band member.

Latin America  June/July 2001

The cast:

Steve Hackett - guitars
Terry Gregory - bass
Rob Townsend - sax and flute
Gary O’Toole - drums
Roger King - keyboards and diary
Jim ‘Pilgrim’ O'Brien - sound mixer
‘Tigger’ Matthews - lighting director
Richard Buckland - backline tech
Martin Cornell - backline tech
Brian Coles - tour manager
Billy Budis - artist manager
Victor Gospodinoff - Argentinian promoter and principal antagonist

Friday, 15 June

Rehearsal day 1. Well, sort of - Steve and I have already spent a couple of ‘pre-rehearsal’ days with new band members Rob and Terry taking them through the set, but this is the first time we have all assembled at the rehearsal studios. I arrive shortly after midday to find Gary and Terry have arrived early (I wasn’t late - I swear I wasn’t) and are pretty much ready to go. Richard, Martin and Tigger are also on scene.  Pilgrim will fly in from L.A. at the beginning of next week. Steve and Rob arrive soon after but we have to wait while Steve’s guitar rig  is assembled. It is a complex arrangement of footpedals, footswitches, distortion and delay units and a waist high rack of studio effects. Somewhere within lurks an autonomous and malevolent brain, surreptitiously changing levels and introducing hums and buzzes when our backs are turned. Richard bravely becalms it and Steve is finally (very) happy with his sound.

We get going mid afternoon - a run-through of Mechanical Bride reveals that Terry and Rob have done their homework, true professionals that they are, and we are off to a flying start. We also attack Watcher, Firth, Hairless Heart, Colossus and The Steppes. Colossus sounds particularly good - drums and bass have never sounded better. The setlist is much the same as for the Italian gigs last year so Gary, Steve and I are reasonably well on top of things but Rob and Terry are not left behind. It is quite humbling, as a keyboard player of relatively modest ability, to be  performing  with such great musicians. By seven o’clock or so we are exhausted and go home. Steve seems happy and we are all getting along well - it has been a good day.

Saturday, 16 June

We work through the most of the rest of the set, omitting only Los Endos and In That Quiet Earth. Steve, at Billy’s suggestion, has resurrected a medley from an early nineties set which consistently trips me up half way through. The rest of the band are more supportive than I deserve, given my acerbic sense of humour, and after an hour or so it is beginning to come together. Steve takes the opportunity afforded by a tea break to warn us of the dangers of roaming the streets of Brazil without military protection. The bottom line seems to be that if you really must leave the hotel on foot then divest yourselves of everything but underpants and act destitute. Alternatively, take Gary with you because he’s a bit, you know... ‘useful’.

Brian Coles (tour manager) arrives and introduces himself. He seems a nice fellow and exudes an air of confidence and efficiency. We appear to be in good hands.

Gary and Terry leave early. Steve, Rob and I run through Rainbow. Ben always played this beautifully but Rob, though his approach is different, is every bit as good.

Sunday, 17 June

We kick off with Los Endos. I love playing this, not least because Gary plays it so brilliantly; as the final chord decays I feel I would gladly bear his children. Fortunately for all concerned it is a moment that passes quickly. Next up is In That Quiet Earth which none of us have previously played (except Steve, of course). It’s a tune that only works if the drum groove is right but Gary nails it instantly - he is having a good day despite a late gig last night. This is very bad news - it gives my humour precious little material to work on.

Billy arrives. We regard Billy’s mood as a barometer for the general state of preparations - fortunately he seems in good spirits. Brian and the crew would seem to be on top of things.

Tigger rigs up a strobe light to rehearse some of  the lighting cues for Mechanical Bride. It’s a fantastic visual effect but Bride is already difficult - with the strobe on it is a bitch, particularly the stop/start section in the middle where strobe lit fury alternates with silent blackout. The expanse of reflective white keys in front of me serves only to magnify the difficulty. I hit upon the idea of closing my eyes during the course of each phrase and opening them again on the very last note; there is just enough decaying  light for me to find where my fingers should be for the next phrase and I can close my eyes in preparation again. Admirers of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder will, of course, find this laughable.

Monday, 18 June

1Monday morning, but it doesn’t feel much like the first day of the week after the three previous days hard work. We’ve basically covered everything in the set but the day is spent trying to nail the more awkward bits (the medley continues to present me with problems) and polish up a few details.

Pilgrim arrives (late afternoon) looking much more awake than someone recently flown in from Los Angeles has any right to and gets to work (with Richard’s help) setting up a monitor desk in an adjoining room so that he can acquaint himself with the set.

Tuesday, 19 June

The first two hours of the day are spent discussing the setlist and links between songs. Steve is keen to avoid the usual announcements so many of the songs are linked with short improvisations or sound effects. We spend most of the remainder of the day working on the links.

Wednesday, 20 June

Brian arrives early to present us with printed schedules - by lunchtime it has already been revised, establishing a precedent for the constantly changing travel arrangements.

Two complete runs through the set with only the occasional stop to go over a detail. The second run is pretty good - Gary and Terry are working really well together.

Thursday, 20 June

The final day of rehearsals. We do two last runthroughs. Rob is ill (he should eat more sensibly) and the rest of us are tired after the last six days’ work so the overall performance is  under par but the general feeling is that we are well prepared. We have to finish early to allow the crew time to load out and finalise shipping manifests. Steve uses the opportunity to take Tigger through the set song by song making requests for particular lighting effects.

We now have three days to make final travel arrangements before Monday’s departure and a full week before the first gig. There is some conjecture about whether the gap between final rehearsal and first gig is a good or bad thing - we should all be well rested but you can forget an awful lot in a week.

Monday, 25 June

We all meet up at Heathrow at 8.00pm to check in for a ten o’clock flight. Somebody (Kim, I think) has managed to get us in to the VIP lounge where the availability of free drinks acts much like a red rag to a bull - charge! Some people are better at this than others (Steve, for example, doesn’t drink at all) but I’ll take this opportunity to doff my cap in Richard’s direction - he and alcohol are clearly made for each other.

Tuesday, 26 June

We arrive in Buenos Aires at ten in the morning. It’s a long and uncomfortable journey (we look forward to several other flights with Varig), some seventeen hours including the connection at Sao Paulo. Steve’s fatigue is compounded by the non-arrival of his luggage - Brian and Victor will work hard to try and recover it but in the meantime Steve is left without so much as a change of clothes.

Band and crew head out to get some lunch and a beer while Steve remains in the hotel to do interviews and photos. Later in the evening Victor takes us out for dinner. Steve is still in the hotel doing interviews and is very tired. In fact, everyone is pretty tired but the general mood is good and we are very much looking forward to the first gig in Rosario on Thursday.

Wednesday, 27 June

2Gary, Rob, Terry and myself take a coach tour of the city. At fifteen dollars each for a three hour trip it is decent value and Buenos Aires is well worth seeing.. It’s rather less Spanish than I had expected - a bit more like across between New York and London or Paris. Everything seems very expensive but at least the universal acceptance of US dollars makes things easier.

Steve’s bags arrive - this perks him up noticeably but the constant interviews are clearly quite draining. In the afternoon we give a press conference in a local radio café. Some forty journalists listen attentively while we give inane answers to inane questions (what are your influences, what’s it like working with Steve, did you know Steve’s material before you met him etc.). For all of us except Steve this is a new experience but it turns out to be quite fun - there seems to be genuine interest in Steve here and we get the distinct impression that Buenos Aires audiences, at least, will be good.

Autographs - I  love signing autographs, infrequent experience though it is. Post conference we are waited on by a girl of no more than sixteen who is initially very nervous but gradually relaxes as the evening wears on. Eventually she plucks up the courage to ask for autographs and leaves the table two minutes later clutching her trophy grinning from ear to ear. I love that.

We have continuing difficulties getting reliable itinerary info. Victor seems to be tearing his hair out but at 10:15pm we finally discover where in Rosario we are due to play tomorrow. Everyone is still a bit jet-lagged (we are four hours behind UK time) but after a relaxed thirty-six hours in Argentina we are all raring to go.

Thursday, 28 June

To Rosario. The drive to the airport takes past a huge, sprawling shanty-town, a desperate and damning indictment of the social inequality that characterises much of South America. Steve tells me that there is worse to come in Brazil. Billy joins us at the airport having arrived from England this morning.

Both from the plane and the ground Rosario and its surroundings seem relentlessly flat. The Los Angeles-type grid system, all blocks and right-angles, compound the effect, denuding the city of any obvious character. Gary and I head for the venue (Auditorio Fundacion Astango) earlier than the rest of the band - Gary is using hired kits for the whole tour and needs time to set up and I am keen to check whether all my keyboards have turned up, Billy having brought the news that a couple of unidentified flightcases had been left at the rehearsal studios. On arrival we discover that the crew are way behind schedule having been locked out of the theatre for an hour and a half due to union lunch-time regulations. Much to my relief, my gear has all arrived safely.

We have a late and abbreviated sound-check due to the earlier delays but by show-time we can’t wait to get on stage. The crowd response is fantastic, despite a few bad mistakes. It seems that the gap between rehearsals and first gig has left us a bit rusty but the general vibe of the gig is really good and the audience reaction quite overwhelming - they seem to know all the previously recorded material, even cheering the intros to songs from Darktown, and receive new material, particularly Mechanical Bride with raucous applause. It’s quite difficult to describe the gig in any detail because it all seems to pass so quickly; I find myself checking the setlist and wondering how we could possibly be half way through already. Anyway, the conclusion: not perfect but a very satisfactory first gig.

Friday, 29 June

Flying from Rosario to Cordoba brings home just how big and sparsely populated Argentina is, a mere 35 million people inhabiting  a country eight times the size of unified Germany. Although the distance between the two cities is not great, some four hundred kilometres, the view from the plane is a vast, flat patchwork of green, brown and yellow squares stretching all the way to the horizon.

Cordoba is another sprawling grid city. As we drive in from the outskirts the small houses that line the roads are festooned with bars, grills and railings. I wonder what happens to the houses that are not so protected.

Our hotel is interesting - it is shabby and dirty and it is with some reluctance that I climb the stairs (I don’t dare risk the elevator) and push the door to my room open. Fighting my way through the wall of heat that greets me I discover the place to be brown from floor to ceiling. The bedclothes (brown) are dirty, the wallpaper (brown) is peeling from the walls and the radiator (actually not brown - more a sort of dirty cream colour) is on full (it is t-shirt weather outside). Turning the radiator off causes a torrent of water to drench the surrounding carpet (brown) so the only viable option seems to be to leave the radiator on and open the window as wide as it will go. Steve’s room is opposite mine - neither of us dare shut our door. For a moment I suffer a prima donna episode and wonder how anyone would expect me to find this acceptable but then I recall the abject poverty we have witnessed in Buenos Aires and I’m disappointed by my own hypocrisy.

 Fortunately moves are being made to find alternative accommodation and the call soon comes for us to head out. Waiting in the lobby we are witness to one of Billy’s legendary temper losses - God forbid that I should ever be on the receiving end. It is Hector, the local promoter, who bears the brunt of it, his position not helped by claims that there is nowhere else available (Brian has already booked us in to another hotel).  Billy’s displeasure at being lied to and his forceful requests for taxis to be provided immediately are of sufficiently high volume to attract the interest of the local police. Fortunately our taxis are screeching away from the kerb as two armed uniforms arrive and we soon arrive at a Holiday Inn.

3The venue is another smallish theatre, capacity perhaps four hundred. Once again the Richard et al are up against it, the apathy bordering on obstruction of the local crew apparently developing into something of a theme for the tour, and once again we have precious little time to soundcheck. Being on the road is tiring enough for the band but for the crew it is a gruelling experience - how they retain their sense of humour is something of a mystery.

The gig is a decent performance, much tighter than Rosario but not quite as much fun for me (for reasons difficult to fathom). Anyway, audience happy, Steve happy, bedtime.

Saturday, 30 June

Back to the Buenos Aires hotel. It feels a bit like coming home but we are met with the news that the truck carrying the backline has been delayed by heavy fog so an uncharacteristically relaxed schedule is instantly compressed into the more usual angst-ridden scramble. The truck finally arrives but setup is further delayed by onstage power problems - Richard is not convinced that it is safe, particularly for Steve, and whilst efforts are made to trace the fault (an earth problem apparently) radio transmitters are hired to decouple Steve and Terry’s guitars from potentially lethal power sources. Sound check is predicatably late and short and the local monitor mixer is worse than useless. We finally take the stage at ten o’clock but we have technical problems of one sort or another throughout the gig - at one point I witness Terry practically jumping on the Taurus pedals in a effort to extract some sound. As it happens, we play quite well but the crowd reaction is understandably low-key and for the first time Steve is unhappy after the gig and calls a production meeting for the following morning.

Sunday, 1 July

The weather has turned colder. Until now we have had sunny autumnal days (quite warm in Rosario and Cordoba) but today in Buenos Aires is overcast and windy - a real home from home. We spend an hour or so in the production meeting discussing not only last night’s problems but also some areas in which the show could be improved - lighting issues, some of the song links, more rigorous pre-flight checks etc.  It’s all minor stuff really but it should help to make the whole production a bit slicker and more professional. Most importantly, perhaps, Richard agrees to take on monitor mixing responsibilities - with a bit of luck the should mean that the on stage mix we find at showtime  is the same as it was at the end of soundcheck. It doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it, but...

Tonight’s gig in a big theatre in downtown BA is being recorded for TV broadcast in a few days’ time so we are a little more nervous than usual. Despite a good soundcheck and very responsive crowd (somewhere between 1500 and 2000 we think) the performance is a little staid. In the dressing room afterwards everyone seems very happy, particularly Steve, but I know I can play better and I’m reasonably sure the rest of the band can too. No major balls-ups though and with the exception of a small gaffe from me in the intro to Watcher (I had to chose the TV gig, didn’t I!) it was a reasonably slick show. From the stage the lights looked particularly good but it’s hard to get any real sense of what it looks like from the audience’s perspective and well-nigh impossible to judge the out-front sound.   

Monday, 2 July

Up at six this morning to catch a two hour flight to Santiago. The final ten minutes of the journey are spent above the Andes - it is a breathtaking vista of barren, snow-capped peaks and frozen lakes and not an experience to be quickly forgotten.

Gary, Rob, Terry and I take a stroll around the centre of Santiago, mainly to find somewhere to eat but also to see a bit of the city and take some photos. It seems like a pretty grim place, to be honest, very different architecturally from Buenos Aires with some fine buildings but mainly a uniform, drab grey. Frankly I’m quite glad to return to the hotel and catch up on some sleep.

The local promoter is feeding us tonight. I’m looking forward to this - we haven’t had a proper evening meal for four days, just grabbing a sandwich or two from the rider. In fact, without wanting to labour the point, the food available has been awful so far - if I see another anaemic cheese and ham white bread sandwich I’ll scream.

Tuesday, 3 July

Another walk around Santiago this morning. It’s quite cold and grey and a thick blanket of cloud flattens all the colours - I see nothing to alter the opinion I developed yesterday but early afternoon we (Rob, Terry, Gary and I) take the funicular railway up to the top of the Parque Metropolitano. After five minutes of near vertical railway (okay, maybe 45 degrees) the view from the top is spectacular and shows Santiago in a very different light from the ground level view. If the air were clean it could be a fine city but it sits in a bowl created by the surrounding peaks and suffers badly from the pollution that collects over it as a consequence.- from our vantage point the far side of the city is largely eclipsed by brown fog.

As we collect another week’s per diems Brian keeps us abreast of developments in Brazil. It seems that promotion in Brazil has been close to nonexistent and Steve, Brian and Billy are concerned that the local promoter is making so little effort. Fortunately, Kim is in Brazil (her native country) and is trying hard to stoke things up. Brian also informs us of the bizarre immigration ritual that we are to be subjected to here - we surrender our passports to the local police who will then attend the gig, satisfy themselves that the performers on stage do indeed look like their passport photos and then hand the passports back. Go figure.

4The Chilean promoters appear to have made a big effort - first impressions of the venue (a basketball stadium) are not too favourable, particularly because of the acoustics, but our crew are happy and the local crew couldn’t be more friendly or helpful. We have a decent soundcheck but it is very cold and my stomach is playing up so I am keen to get back to the hotel and have a couple of hours’ rest before the gig. By the time we leave the hotel again I have spent two hours shivering in bed with a raging temperature. Steve makes arrangements to take a fifteen minute break mid-set if I’m really struggling and I take the stage wearing three t-shirts and a sweat-shirt. It’s truly amazing what the combination of paracetamol and adrenaline can do. I actually play quite well. In fact the whole band play well and the one thousand or so people crammed into the stadium make an incredible noise. The sound reverberating around the place reappears on stage as an indistinct noise so the on-stage monitors have to be louder. Which, in turn, makes life more difficult for Pilgrim. But in spite of it all it is a really great gig. Post gig I feel less ill but totally exhausted - while the rest of the band stay behind to soak up the adulation Brian kindly makes arrangements for me to be taken back to the hotel. I need sleep.

Wednesday, 4 July

We are due to fly to Curitiba in Brazil via Buenos Aires but we still don’t have the appropriate visas so whilst the crew (and Billy) will continue on to Brazil the band and Brian have to stop in BA. Time is running short - the next gig is tomorrow evening, Steve is worried and the usually calm and efficient Brian is becoming visibly more agitated. Kim is apparently pulling all the strings she can to move things along.

Meanwhile I still feel terrible and as soon as we check in I go to bed and stay there for the rest of the day.

Thursday, 5 July

Still no visas. Victor promises that the matter is in hand and that we should go to Brazil as planned. To the airport. Check in. Several heated telephone calls. It transpires that Victor’s plan involves us entering Brazil as tourists and sorting out visas when we get there - this is clearly a recipe for total disaster so we check back off the flight and return to the hotel. Tomorrow’s Blumenau gig is cancelled and tonight’s Curitiba gig is rescheduled for tomorrow instead. It’s all very dispiriting. I am still ill and have barely eaten since Tuesday morning - as soon as we get back to the hotel I go back to bed.

Friday, 6 July

We check out first thing and go to the Brazilian Consulate in BA. After much form filling, pleading and arguing, during which time Steve is escorted from the building by an armed security guard for using a mobile phone, Brian bursts through the consulate doors clutching visas and we make a mad dash for the airport. If we miss the scheduled 11.30 flight we can’t get a connection at Sao Paulo and the gig will have to be canceled. We make it with just a few minutes to spare and finally touch down in Curitiba at 7:30. Arriving at the venue we discover that there is no rear entrance so we must carry our bags through the throng of fans who are gathered around the front doors. It’s hardly a disaster but it doesn’t look good. Straight on to stage for a hurried soundcheck and then to the dressing rooms for cheese and ham sandwiches. Well, not for me - I’m still feeling unwell and have eaten next to nothing for the last four days.

The venue is a small theatre, much wider than it is deep with a curved stage. The resulting performance experience is rather strange but I am running on autopilot and remember little of the gig. Apparently it was okay. Frankly, at this point I would happily go home.

Saturday, 7 July

To Florianopolis by coach. It is fantastic drive through stunning Brazilian countryside. Treeclad mountains, cloud covered peaks, valleys carpeted in mist, boulder-strewn rivers and blue lakes punctuated by outcrops of tattered and semi-derelict shanties, open cast mines and abandoned cars.

Florianopolis is beautiful. Clean and well kept with lots of character but we are here for such a short time that we don’t get much more than a quick glimpse of the place.

Kim, who joined us in Curitiba, tells us that her mother has arranged for forty or so of her friends to attend the Rio gig on the misapprehension that we are performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These grand old ladies (septuagenarians all, apparently) are in for a grand old shock.

Another gig beset by technical problems. Nothing showstopping but a plague of minor problems. The crowd response is decent even though the theatre doesn’t really connect the band with the audience very well but I still feel very weak and I’m quite glad to have got another gig done and ticked off the list.

Sunday, 8 July

Another flight, this time to Porto Alegre. We stay at an airport hotel so once again we get to see very little of the city. Rob is keen that I should include a diary entry about his quest to locate (and purchase) a Pandera but the subject is just too dull and I have to refuse.

The venue is a good old-fashioned rock club with a stone floor, tiny stage and standing room only. The crew’s nightmare for the day is that none of the locals speak English (none of the crew speak Portuguese) and there is no translator. Richard explains that it has taken two and a half hours of semaphore just to get 240V on stage. Needless to say we get a late and limited soundcheck. The gig, however, turns out to be great fun. Steve, particularly seems to be enjoying himself. I am just beginning to feel a little better and enjoy myself on stage for the first time since Buenos Aires.

Monday, 9 July

Rio. Oh wow. The drive from the airport gives a very broad picture of the city - past squalid shanty towns and haphazard, barely habitable brick dwellings (“houses” is too grandiose a term), past dumping grounds where the battered remains of carnival floats decay, to Copacabana where we discover, to our amazement, that we are staying in a hotel on the Avenida Atlantica itself with fifteenth floor rooms overlooking the beach. Whilst the crew have to go straight to the venue, the band (excluding Steve) take a leisurely stroll along the beach watching the locals play football and volleyball, and then up the road for a quick look at Ipanema beach, just so that we can say we’ve been there. The view is awesome - white sand and rolling surf set against a background of green mountains.

Soundcheck is delayed and abbreviated again - this time because the hired drums turn up late. It’s a funny gig - all tables and chairs (many of them populated by Kim’s friends) and drinks  waiters. We play a competent but lacklustre set - Steve is nervous I think because he knows so many of the audience - but the reception is okay. Anyway, it’s another one off the list.

Tuesday, 10 July

Sao Paulo. You can have Sao Paulo, I hate it. Twenty million people cram themselves in here, many of them desperately poor. We are advised not to leave the hotel on foot after sunset. As it happens there is very little opportunity for that anyway. We hang around in the afternoon waiting on news of a soundcheck. Richard phones at 4:30 to say that the backline has not arrived and shows no signs of arriving soon. It turns out that the police have stopped the truck mid-journey, searched the contents and declared the paperwork to be incorrect. A $1000 “fine” has to be paid or the gear will remain impounded.

Early evening we discover that we are not going to Peru. No sensible explanation is given (the excuse is something about a failure to get the necessary local authority license for the gig) and it appears that some people have known all about it for at least two days. Suspicions are further raised when our passports (which were collected yesterday to be taken to the Peruvian embassy) reappear with Venezuelan visas instead. With the threat of tonight’s gig being canceled hanging over us we all feel thoroughly pissed off.  Victor’s popularity is in steep decline.

I don’t know how the impounding situation got resolved but the truck finally arrives at the venue at 8:45. The doors are due to open at nine and showtime is ten. There is a mad rush to set up with all hands to the pump. the doors are opened before we get a chance to soundcheck so we have to make noises on stage whilst the audience is filing in. There is no chance of a runthrough of any sort, Steve obviously can’t appear on stage and Pilgrim has no opportunity to get a proper mix together before the show starts, though he apparently copes admirably. Just as we are ready to go on stage Steve has a guitar problem which takes ten minutes to fix and a stage announcement is made to let the audience know that there will be yet more delay, further antagonising the punters.When we do finally get on stage we find the place to be only about half full, maybe two or three hundred people, largely because there has been precious little promotion. We do our best but it is late and we are tired, the audience are tired and there is very little atmosphere. It is difficult to play with any enthusiasm and I feel a little guilty because we don’t really give the fans the performance they deserve.

Wednesday, 11 July

Alarm calls are made at 4:45am for us to assemble in the lobby for a 5:30 departure. Although we are not stopping in Peru the journey to Caracas is via a connecting flight to Lima. This represents an enormous detour compared to flying direct from Sao Paulo. After the nonsense of the last couple of days and only a couple of hours sleep a fourteen hour journey is guaranteed to lower spirits. To rub salt in to the wound, the Caracas gig is not until Saturday so there is no need to get there in a hurry. Victor’s popularity continues to dive. We arrive at the hotel at 8:30pm. Food, beer and bed.

Thursday, 12 July

We’re all basically kicking our feet. Literally, in Richard’s case. In a fit of pique over a restaurant order that didn’t turn up he has attempted to lay waste to his bedroom door in the traditional rock’n’roll fashion and succeeded only in knackering his foot instead. Rather disappointingly, the initial rumour (that he had trashed the entire room in a drunken rage) turns out to be something of an exaggeration.

Caracas is a fantastic place.We are made very welcome (except by the hotel which, for all its grandeur, seems to treat its guests with disdain). We sit by the pool in tropical sun gazing up at the mountains or reading, or stroll around the streets checking out the shops and stalls. The extremes of wealth and poverty, such a feature of South America in general, are very much in evidence here too, shanty towns juxtaposed with barred and grilled opulence, but the whole place has a really great vibe to it and the shopkeepers and stallholders are all very welcoming and helpful despite our inability to speak Spanish.

Friday, 13 July

Still just kicking back. We do a couple of record shop signing appearances which are great fun - we feel like we have probably met most of tomorrow’s audience already, several times in some cases as they rejoin the end of the queue and bring forth yet more records, t-shirts, guitars... One punter asks if we will be playing “Shadow Of The Hierophant”. Steve thinks this is a good idea so we hope that there will be time at soundcheck tomorrow to rehearse it. Otherwise the day is spent wandering the city streets looking at market stalls or lounging by the pool topping up our sunburn. No doubt we will be taken out to dinner again tonight, just as on Wednesday and Thursday - the promoters seem very keen to look after us and the food is fabulous. I seem to have recovered from whatever it was that wiped out my appetite and I’m busy trying to regain some of the fourteen pounds I lost in Chile and Brazil.

Saturday, 14 July

Show day. The gig had promised to be quite exotic, located in a nunnery, but the reality is a little more mundane - a regulation theatre with a balcony and a capacity of one thousand. Once again, although for no apparent reason this time, soundcheck is a brief affair so we don’t have time to rehearse “Shadow”. We all know it, having spent time with a CD player earlier today, but Steve does not want to risk it without rehearsal. It turns out that this is a charity gig - on top of the wonderful hospitality we have received this makes us particularly keen to turn in a really good show. And, dare I say it, we do. A decent support act warms up the audience nicely and despite a rather edgy start (perhaps just anxious to get it right) we play the best gig yet. The audience reaction is great - respectfully quiet during songs, uproarious at the ends. After the gig news reaches is that despite expectations to the contrary, three nuns attended and were witnessed enthusiastically applauding along with everyone else - excellent!  We’re all really pleased that we delivered here and I’m very sorry that the planned second night isn’t happening.

There has to be a fly in the ointment though doesn’t there? After the gig, it turns out that Victor has made no plans to ship the gear to Panama for the gig on Monday, apparently hoping that we can take it as excess baggage (all 900 kilos of it) on our flight. Brian, of course, is on the phone trying to sort it all out - bless him!? Brian’s postion as tour hero becomes ever more secure - that man is permanently on the phone.

Sunday, 15 July

5We spend the afternoon as guests of the promoters in the Caracas suburb of El Tahillo. It’s a traditional town square with a church on one side and the town hall on the other. Today is “Children's Day” so there are, predictably, hundreds of children about being entertained by, amongst other things, a local band. It is a heart-warming sight. We are treated to a wonderful lunch and spend an hour or so browsing in the local shops before heading back to hotel for an early night - Victor (bless him) has scheduled another 5.00am start tomorrow.

I shall be sorry to leave Caracas - everyone we have met here has been welcoming and enthusiastic and it is a fantastic, vibrant city. I shall not be sorry to leave this hotel (the Gran Melia Caracas). For all its apparent grandeur it truly sucks. The lifts don’t work, the employees are unhelpful way beyond the call of duty, the whole place has an air of decay about it and they fleece you at every turn - seven dollars for a bottle of beer, ten dollars a day for the hire of an iron, twenty dollars for breakfast and to top it all they have the nerve to charge extra for coffee. It is scarcely credible.

Monday, 16 July

It is a short flight from Caracas to Panama City  so we arrive pretty early. First impressions are not great. There are two climates here; the insufferably hot and humid natural climate and the insufferably cold artificial climate that the locals insist on maintaining indoors. All in all it seems rather a dull place - Tigger offers the observation (here I’m paraphrasing) that we should not expect too much from a jumped up toll booth. We are treated to a fantastic TexMex lunch, though - thanks Dave.

A quick inspection of the venue doesn’t fill us with glee - it is an unremarkable club with a tiny stage (big enough for pole dancing, for sure) and air-conditioning  set to preserve bacon for three months. The PA is a typical club setup and sounds awful. The one redeeming feature is the VW Beetle and its occupying stuffed frogs hanging upside down from the ceiling.

Nearing showtime Steve and I are waiting somewhat despondently in the dressing when a club employee enters the room fully ready to exercise his four word English vocabulary. He points at Steve - “Henesis geetareest?” Steve mutely nods an affirmative. Slight pause. “Pheel Colleens?” he asks. The tiniest trace of a resigned smile appears on Steve’s face as he nods a second affirmative and the little man triumphantly departs, another great feat of detective work satisfactorily concluded.

Thirty minutes or so before we are due on stage we are looking forward to finishing the gig, getting a decent night’s sleep and leaving Panama tomorrow morning. Then some truly great food arrives (nachos, tacos etc) and we begin to cheer up. Steve reappears after a brief sortie upstairs and tells us that now the lights are on, the punters are in and the place has warmed up a bit the gig seems like a more worthwhile proposition. I go up to check it out for myself and get the same impression. Suddenly I’m quite looking forward to playing and sure enough it turns out to be a really great gig. The drum kit falls apart, we have whistling feedback all night and Terry’s bass rig fails to function in any recognisable manner but I have a really good time. Afterwards the comments from promoters and punters are universally intelligent and positive and yet more great food (and beer) appears so by the time I get to bed I rather wish we were staying longer in Panama.

Tuesday, 17 July

Our early morning flight (thanks again Victor) has been changed to early afternoon (thanks Brian) and the promoters very kindly arrange for us to be taken on a sight-seeing trip. There is only one sight worth seeing in Panama so naturally we head for the canal. It’s actually a lot more interesting than you might think and we witness two boats passing through one of the three enormous locks. Then on to a fantastic buffet lunch in a restaurant overlooking the sea. By the time we check out I’m quite sorry to be leaving.

Wednesday, 18 July

And quite sorry to be arriving in Costa Rica. I don’t much like San Jose, it seems a very dreary city. The incessant rain doesn’t help much but it all seems very run down anyway. Tigger is not happy - his lighting specification has been totally ignored and he has only the regular theatre lights to work with. We take the stage. We play. The small audience (no surprise given the weather and the high ticket prices) seem to quite like it. The local promoter gives a good impression of someone who doesn’t give a shit. We go to bed in preparation for another early departure (I must remember to thank Victor).

Thursday, 19 July

We assemble in the hotel lobby at 5.00am. Those members of band and crew who are conscious are pretty hacked off.  Now, quiz time. The quickest route from San Jose to Mexico City is a) direct from San Jose to Mexico City or b) via Panama City? Not too tricky is it? Question two: Victor Gospodinoff, administrative genius and man-managing supremo that he is, has chosen route a) or route b)?  Anyone who correctly answered a) to the first question and b) to the second will probably now understand the general air of dissatisfaction with the itinerary. What should be a quick hop up the spine of Central America takes us a full twelve hours from hotel lobby to hotel lobby.

As a consolation we are treated to a truly fantastic evening in a traditional Mexican restaurant (courtesy of the local promoters) complete with Mariachi band and dancers. A cock fight is also on the bill, which concerns some of us, but it turns out to be a tame affair.

Friday, 20 July

The awful pollution, for which Mexico City is world renowned, and the high altitude make physical exertion something of a chore here. A quick trip round a local market is sufficient excitement for the day and I spend the afternoon watching Spanish subtitled episodes of “Cheers” and “Taxi”. In the evening we assemble in the lobby and Steve is approached by a fan who has flown down from Canada just to see the gig. He is rewarded for his enthusiasm with an invitation to join us for dinner - I bet he wasn’t expecting that. He probably wouldn’t have expected us to go to such a piss-poor restaurant, either.

Saturday, 21 July

The final showday. Nobody ever wants to play a bad gig but the final show of a tour is the one everyone remembers so we are especially keen to make this a good one. The Venue turns out to be really nice. It is pretty big and we are told that it is expected to be full. For the first time we get a bit of time to rehearse during soundcheck and so “Shadow” can finally go in the set. Steve elects to incorporate it in the encore.

The show turns out to be a blinder - Tigger pulls out all the stops and the lights are simply amazing. The performance is good, the outfront sound is apparently excellent, the capacity crowd are noisy beyond belief - we couldn’t have hoped for a better finale.

Sunday, 22 July

Job done. We are killing time really but a trip to see the ancient city of Teotihiucan (no, I can’t pronounce it either) and a traditional home-cooked lamb dinner laid on by the local promoters seem like a perfectly good reason not to jump straight on to a homeward-bound plane.

Monday, 23 July

Our flight is not until early evening so we have a chance to do a bit of last minute shopping but we are all knackered and just waiting to leave.

Tuesday, 24 July

Touchdown at Heathrow. See you all for the next one. Bye.

And finally

The statistics:

29 days, 7 countries, 8 changes of time zone, 14 gigs, maybe 10000 punters, 19 flights lasting nearly 60 hours and covering  35000km, 1 bus journey of 400km, 63 cheese and ham sandwiches each.

The setlist:

Mechanical Bride
Serpentine Song
Watcher Of The Skies
Hairless Heart
Firth Of Fifth
Riding The Colossus
The Steppes
Gymnopedie No.1
Walking Away From Rainbows
Sierra Quemada
Slave Girls
Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite
A Tower Struck Down
Camino Royale
In Memoriam


Shadow Of The Hierophant
Los Endos
In That Quiet Earth

Diary: Roger King
Photos: Roger King, Carlos Alberto Faz Ferreira