"Ambassador, you are spoiling us…"
Saturday 3 June, 10.30am (Regency Ballroom, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Seoul):
Well, here we are. The day of the gig. In about 11 hours we’ll be playing to a crowd of over 500 people, including the British Ambassador, here in the Regency Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul, South Korea. How did we get here?!
The theme of the evening is the Chelsea Flower Show, and the ballroom is looking really quite magnificent. A frenetic team of event organisers are bombing about, assembling lighting rigs and tinkering with elaborate floral arrangements. The décor for the evening includes a gigantic working water-mill, a specially-erected thatched cottage complete with lawn and garden path and a 30-foot tall cascading waterfall. The acronym “QBB” (“Queen’s Birthday Ball”) hangs majestically above the main entrance to the ballroom, spelled out in enormous 3D letters made entirely of moss. Oh, and each dinner table is sporting its own fully-functional miniature water-feature, of a complexity and aesthetic finesse that would make Alan Titchmarsh weep. Basically, the place is pimped.
We have arrived early in order to ensure a smooth sound-check. However, the sound crew are yet to turn up and apparently they may not be here until lunchtime, which leaves us twiddling our thumbs somewhat. During the intervening hours I while away my time contemplating whether I could get away with re-arranging the table-top model giraffes into lewd kama-sutras. I also spot that QBB is BBQ backwards. Coincidence? I think not.
Saturday 3 June, 2.30pm (On stage, Regency Ballroom, Hyatt Hotel):
The sound crew have arrived, and there are hundreds of them. They are currently in the process of unveiling legions of drum-kits, keyboards, amps etc for our approval, and so a great deal of thumbs-upping is going on. Tony has been entertaining the Korean technicians for some time now by gadding about in a sort of complex silent pantomime which, roughly translated, means “Yes, playing the drums standing up is odd and, yes, a singing drummer is also odd but it’s very important to me that I get my own way”. This is most entertaining.
Half an hour later we’re all standing behind our instruments checking the sound. It’ s sounding great but, according to Tony, there’s something not quite right. This’ll be something technical and in these situations we always leave it to him to negotiate with the soundman. Today, of course, the soundman is Korean, which is likely to complicate matters. Tony treks the seven miles from the stage to the sound-desk and returns a few minutes later with a triumphant smile on his face. Miraculously, he seems to have solved the problem by convincing the guy to “heighten the threshold and resolve the compression ratio to below 3.5” and “set the near-field proximity with a slightly slimmer EQ setting”. Based on what I know to be his scant grasp of the Korean language, Tony must have achieved this via some clever combination of the phrases “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Does this dish contain meat?”.
The sound is sorted, the stage is set. Just a few hours to go…
Sat 3 June, 8.30pm (Lightyears Dressing Room, Backstage, Hyatt Hotel):
We are sitting backstage eating mini snickers bars and rehearsing “God Save The Queen” in our heads. Warwick Morris, the British Ambassador to South Korea, is out there with 499 other guests, eager to salute Her Majesty on this momentous day, her 80th birthday, via a heartfelt rendition of the National Anthem. Let’s hope we get it right.
Our nerves are hardly settled by the worry that, in the event that we do get to meet the Ambassador, the temptation to crack Ferrero Rocher jokes may prove too overwhelming to resist. In an effort to combat this, we have spent much of our time backstage racking our brains for erudite and pithy phrases we can keep up our sleeves should the occasion arise. So far, the best we’ve come up with is “Pull my finger”.
Sat 3 June, 11.45pm (Dancefloor, Regency Ballroom, Grand Hyatt Hotel):
To our delight, the gig went down a treat. Small tears of patriotic joy were shed at our interpretation of “God Save The Queen” and the place was rocking when we took to the stage after dinner. At one point, I even spotted some dude playing air guitar on his best mate’s leg. Despite George’s amp and guitar breaking down at the beginning of our second set – you try saying “My Fender Twin is buggered”, in Korean, whilst also singing and playing guitar in front of hundreds of people – we pulled through and everyone at the ball seemed to have, well, a ball.
After the show we took to the dancefloor, and we now seem to have attracted the attention of a group of young English teachers sitting by the enormous moss wilderbeast display. I remember these guys from our set because one of them was dancing like the ghost of Cosmo Brown, if Cosmo Brown had smoked a whole bunch of crack (seriously, look out for him when the tour video comes out). We fall into conversation with them and they make a promise to take us out on the town after the ball and show us a good time, Seoul-style.
Sunday 3 June, 3.30am in the morning (A nightclub, Hongik, Seoul):
We have been taken out to what has been billed as “the seediest night-club in Seoul” – apparently 95% of the girls in this place are Korean or Russian prostitutes. It’s very much like walking onto the set of a 50 Cent music video, except that the soundtrack in here doesn’t make me want to shoot myself and everyone I’ve ever met. The place is thronging with people, the tunes are banging, and the vodka shots are forthcoming. We stick around for an hour or so, before the temptation to go for a big Norebang session proves too strong to resist…
Sunday 3 June, 8.30am in the morning (Norebang house, Hongik, Seoul):
We step blinking into the sunlight, rubbing our eyes and trying to work out how we managed to spend four hours singing karaoke in a tiny room with a bunch of people we hardly know. It’s 8.30 on Sunday morning and the people of Seoul are beginning to stir. Time for us to hit the sack, I think. We’ve had an awesome night with our new buddies, from whom we must now sadly part as we’re flying back tomorrow. If you’re reading this, guys, thanks for a killer night out.
Sunday 3 June, 9pm (Korean restaurant, Insadong, Seoul):
Tonight we had a band photo shoot to commemorate our last night in Korea, and have since moved on to a Korean restaurant round the corner from Somerset Palace. The entertainment afforded by the charming English translations on the menu this evening is second-to-none – George has ordered the “chicken gamble”, which is a particularly brave move, given the name, and I opt for the “chicken glutinous rice cracker frizzled in oil”, because I have always held the belief that frizzling is the best way to cook anything, especially if it’s glutinous. Items we would have liked to have ordered through curiosity, but for which appetite didn’t allow, include “kimchi spawnfood”, “a chicken boom”, “old kimchi slices of boiled pig meat”, “egg scroll”, “live kiwi juice” and an after-dinner liquor mysteriously translated as “rubus schizostylus”. Man, I love this place.
Monday 4 June, 3pm (32,000 feet above sea level, Moscow):
George is making a call from his personal in-flight telephone, leading with the line “Yeah, hi…. yeah, I’m in a jumbo jet…. What? Yes, that’s right, I’m just cruising over Russia…”. What a ponce. Blighty, here we come.
Monday 4 June, 10.30pm (Lightyears HQ, Chiswick, London, UK):
London, England. Home. Here it’s 10.30pm; to us it feels like 7.30 in the morning. And so we take refuge in the local pub, buy a round of beers, and proceed to reminisce heartily about our adventures in Korea, long into the night……