“I’ll have a Gibson please, stout yeoman…”
Saturday 13 October, 4.45pm (Gothenburg, Sweden):
The Lightyears have landed, for the first time ever, in Sweden. We’re playing a gig with a superband of rock legends on Monday (what’s the official collective noun for that? A ‘crowd-surf’ of rock legends, perhaps?!) and so John, Tony and I have flown out a day or two early to get the lay of the land.
Gothenburg’s an interesting place. To hardened Londoners, its most immediate features are the pervading sense of calm, the blissful lack of traffic and the extraordinary price of booze.
In fact, after just an hour or two here we have decided that Gothenburg is way too expensive a city to get drunk in, so we’re just going to have a quiet one.
[Five hours later.]
We are in a Swedish cocktail bar, and we are drunk. And poor.
I can say with almost unwavering certainty that this bar is in Gothenburg, but other than that its whereabouts are unclear. We wandered in earlier this afternoon and have somehow never left, perhaps due to the fact that a pint of beer in here actually costs less than £9. The cold, driving rain may be pounding the cobbles outside, but indoors The Lightyears have found a candle-lit jazz enclave, perfect for an evening reminiscing about old tours and looking forward to new ones.
The waiter returns, for the twenty-seventh time, to our table.
“I should like a Gibson please, stout yeoman,” announces Tony, who is by now feeling really rather saucy. The tremendously-cheekboned waiter falters, and narrows his eyes.
“What is a Gibson?”
Tony looks stumped. I guess he wasn’t expecting that (at least not in a cocktail bar).
“Um… well…” He looks to us. We both shake our heads, and he returns to the waiter. “I saw Cary Grant order one in North By Northwest. But… erm… I’ve got no idea what’s in it.”
“…Although it definitely involves one of those little onions.”
This is classic Tony. The waiter looks back over his shoulder, then clears our glasses.
“I will figure it out,” he concludes, with all the confidence of a man about to entirely make something up. Fifteen minutes later he returns, looking somewhat sheepish.
“I’m afraid we have run out of cocktail glasses,” he says, producing a wine glass from behind his back. “And also cocktail onions.”
In front of Tony stands a comically enormous wine glass containing the smallest amount of liquid I have ever seen pass as a drink. It is the colour of wee, and half-submerged within it is a huge slice of raw onion on a stick.
Tony’s suavity points plummet immediately from Cary Grant to Russell Grant.
“Right… thanks,” he replies hesitantly, peering into his drink and proceeding to suck on the onion as if it were some kind of disgusting lollipop.
After this, the remainder of the evening passes in a blur that definitely involves venison, and more beers, and something with fish. Happy and full-bellied, we crash out onto the rain-whipped street in the wee small hours in search of a way home.
Now, take it from me – Sweden is an extremely wholesome place. The people here are sophisticated and polite, everyone drinks in moderation and they all look like they get plenty of sleep. The wages are high and crime is low, all of which makes Gothenburg the kind of the city where, for example, you’d never expect to get ripped off by a taxi driver.
Sunday 14 October, 2.30am (somewhere in Gothenburg):
We are being ripped off by a taxi driver.
And I don’t mean by a sneaky quid or two – this guy just charged us TWENTY-SIX POUNDS for a four-minute cab ride. His official fee was twenty-five, but when he handed back my change he had sneakily tipped himself another pound, the flagrant apple-john. I suppose in a way the Gullible Tourist should expect certain rites of passage when visiting new cities – being humourlessly grilled at customs in New York, for instance, or discovering that nobody likes you in Paris – but I tell you what, when I get back to England that fellow’s cab firm will find themselves opening up a really quite severely-worded e-mail on the subject, so I hope they’re ready.
Sunday 14 October, 6.30pm (The harbourside, Gothenburg):
During Lightyears tours, Tony has two modes – ON and OFF. When he’s on, your liver had better watch out; but when he’s off, he mostly lies in bed in his pants watching football in the dark. Today is one of those days, so before the rest of the band arrives John and I have ventured back out into the city to see what it looks like minus the hazy filter of alcohol.
We have an absolutely fantastic day, largely due to Gothenburg’s equivalent of Boris Bikes. Public transport karma is definitely on our side after last night’s taxi debacle, and for a mere pound we purchase free cycling for three whole days… glorious. And it’s stopped raining.
At around midnight, the rest of the band arrives at the hotel. Soundman Danny is looking bleary-eyed on account of coming here straight from a European tour with Belleruche (a band who are way cooler than us and, I expect, know how to properly order a Gibson), George is looking fatigued on account of having a ten-week old baby, but Owen – our lead guitarist for this trip – is looking sprightly on account of being back in one of his favourite cities. He immediately takes us on a trip around some of his old haunts, including an Irish pub called The Dubliner and an achingly cool club called Park Lane.
Everyone – everyone – in Park Lane is stupendously attractive.
“This is insane,” I remark to Owen, as we stand on the dancefloor balcony watching chiselled beauties with amazing hair moving under coloured lights. “It actually looks like people have been auditioned to get in here.”
“That’s because they have,” replies Owen, with a twinkle in his eye, as another procession of impossibly beautiful women passes by. “They don’t let the ugly ones in.”
In reply I offer some quip about how on earth we managed to slip through the net, but it gets lost in the steady thump, thump of the music.
Monday 15 October, 4.45pm (Gothia Towers, Gothenburg):
It’s the day of the gig, and we are sitting in soundcheck watching The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Queen’s Roger Taylor and their backing band SAS (made up of many of the world’s top session players) rehearsing Baba O’Riley. This is surreal, and brilliant, and not something I ever quite expected to witness. We used to come onstage to this song at the Clapham Grand, and now we’ve got a behind-the-scenes peak at The Real Deal. We are all doing our utmost to come across as cool and aloof, and not in any way starstruck.
Danny breaks the illusion, however, when Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden turns up and he bounds over to get his photo taken with him (and here it is —–>).
The SAS Band is run by all-round legend and fellow keyboard player Spike Edney. Spike has long been Queen’s keyboard player and musical director, and is very kindly letting me use his piano during our set. I note with excitement that the instrument patch he has set up for me sits next to ‘Rock You’ and ‘Champions’, which I decide is extremely bloody cool. Then, whilst waiting for our soundcheck to start, I spot a white Roland AX-7 – that’s a keytar to you cretins – propped up against his amp, and resolve to ask Spike if he’s ever played it at Wembley Stadium (not out of the question, since he did perform with Queen at Live Aid). This might sound odd to you but I was keen to discover whether or not he was eligible to join my exclusive club for People Who Have Played Keytars At Wembley. So far it’s just me and Gary Barlow, so we could do with bumping up the numbers. Sadly, however, there simply wasn’t time.
With the venue about to fill up with people, we speed through our soundcheck and head back up to our hotel rooms to kick back with a beer and ‘Transformers 3 – The Dark Of The Moon’ before showtime (we do consider asking the Rogers if they fancy two and a half solid hours of autobot action to help them relax before the gig, but they’ve disappeared).
12.45am (backstage at Gothia Towers):
Now here’s something I never thought I’d experience. We are standing backstage planning our set, trying to decide whether or not to play Bohemian Rhapsody with Queen’s actual drummer standing actually right behind us. Being a plucky young fella, Owen opts eventually to just come out and ask him, and Roger graciously replies ‘Sure, knock yourself out’ on account of the fact that they’re not doing it tonight. Then he walks onstage to perform We Will Rock You.
SAS end on We Are The Champions (you kinda have to, right?!) and leave the stage to deafening applause from the crowd. It’s getting late and closing time isn’t far off so we pile onstage and get going as quickly as possible. This has to be one of our latest starts to date – 1.15am! – but we go at it like buffalos on a jet-ski (that simile is new to me as well, and to be honest I’m not convinced by it. But hey, moving on).
I have a whale of a time up on my piano player’s riser (normally I’m stuck behind the speaker, so this is a real boon for me) and, if I’m honest, spend much of the set trying not to watch myself on the big screens. Tony pounds the living heck out of the drums and John, George and Owen bomb about on the massive stage soloing like loons and grinning from ear to ear. In the end there’s not enough time for Bohemian Rhapsody, but we don’t mind. The adrenalin rush is absolutely killer.
Tumbling back into the wings at the end of our set, we conclude that there’s now only one thing for it – head backstage to party with The Legends.
Sidling into the SAS dressing room with all the subtlety of excitable children allowed to stay up past midnight on New Year’s Eve, we fall into conversation with the stars. I spend a while chatting with Patti Russo, the super-lunged rock chick famous for being Meat Loaf’s lead female vocalist. She’s an absolute hoot, although annoyingly it didn’t occur to me until the next day to ask her what it was that Meat Loaf wouldn’t do for love. In the absence of the definitive answer, I’m going to say it was doing the recycling. Because that can be well annoying.
We manage to engineer a quick chat with Daltrey and Taylor before they leave for their hotel, asking Roger D how he finds performing Baba time after time, after all these years. “I just sing it like it’s the first time, every time,” he says, very simply, and you can tell he means it. At the end of the day, I guess that’s the basic secret of performance – and there’s a man who should know.
Roger T is wearing an amazing fur coat and is, unsurprisingly, effortlessly cool. We have our photo taken together, shake hands with them and eventually part ways, genuinely humbled by the experience.
As the SAS Band disperse from the dressing room, their publicist Roxy tools us up with a few leftover bottles of wine and a box of beers and we stumble back up to our room to see the tour out in style (well, perhaps not in style. But definitely ‘in room’). More tour stories are shared, anecdotes performed, debates had and wine spilt, until the night begins to fade and morning greets us with its wide-eyed glare. Danny, Tony and I have remained standing long enough to hit breakfast at 7am, which we do with extraordinary gusto and almost certainly an embarrassing inability to hide from the assembled business folk that we’ve been up all night drinking Merlot from tiny hotel mugs.
An hour later, as the sun starts to come up, Danny and I crash back into our room and fall asleep to the sweet refrain of Zooey Deschanel doing her kooky quirky thing from the flickering TV. Sleep soon descends.
What a night, boys… and thank you Sweden!