Second Winter

Second Winter

Let's shimmy back through the stargate to Tuesday, March 15th, 1994. To be more precise: 12 noon, Hard Rock Café, Hyde Park Corner. Along with comedian, Jim Davidson, and my colleague, Jay Green, LIVE! Magazine is about to present a massive cheque (physically rather than monetarily... we weren’t exactly drowning in wedge) to Harvey Goldsmith, in his role as chairman of the National Music Day charity. The plan is to seal the deal over a glass of champagne and then drive straight to Frankfurt for Musikmesse.

We’d started LIVE! Magazine exactly three years earlier — but more of that later. Jay and I alternated our annual drive to the Fatherland’s premier trade show; this year it was my turn to be wingman to Jay’s wheelmaster, and via a stop-off at our printers in Gillingham to collect the latest edition of the mag off the pallets, we arrive at Dover - a tactic that allows the printers ink to dry as we float across the Channel.

The winter weather is already doing its worst and by the time the P&O Ferry arrives at Calais (no Channel Tunnel in those days) we’re onto the icebound blacktops of northern Europe. We know the route through France, Belgium, and Germany blindfolded — but 40km out of Frankfurt on the E3 autobahn at Wiesbaden, we hit black ice and spin off the road.

For about four seconds the world turns kaleidoscopic. A double pike and two half twists later, we’re Firestones up and waving our arms and legs in the air like the opening chapter of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. As we come around, we appear to be staring down the muzzle of a Mace gun, but it turns out to be nothing more threatening than a fire extinguisher brandished by a friendly local. A friendly local? And on the scene so soon?

All smiles and binoculars around his neck, he explains that this is a notorious black spot, and two more cars have come off the road within 300 metres. Accident spotting is a hobby, and tonight he has clearly hit paydirt. I wondered what he did for kicks during the ‘off season’... Trawl the E3’s dogging pull-offs perhaps, with his industrial snoopware? Anyways, we have bigger concerns than voyeurs, having just filled up Jay’s Ford Granada Scorpio, which is now carrying a full payload of gas.

Jay (adopting Peckham-style Bruce Willis accent): “Get out, this thing’s about to blow sky high”. Me (fumbling in glove compartment): “Er, I think we’d be advised to lose the Aunt Nora first.”

And so our chattels are strewn across the knoll, including the pochettes of contraband, which are scattered and instantly evanesce into the snowy background. It’s a scene straight out of a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers cartoon.

It’s as well that we acted, as within three minutes, the local Polizei have rolled up in a liveried saloon, and are dressed to impress. We are truly among Germany’s Ploderati.

“What happened mate?” says Cop #1, whose accent owes more to the Balls Pond Road than Berlin. Sure enough, he tells us he was born in Hackney. I tell Jay that he will never see his crumpled piece of metal in automobile form again (although it may transubstantiate into a Vari-Lite or lesser nodding bucket). I give him private moments to pay his last respects (meanwhile, I am venting my own grief, weeping uncontrollably into the snowy knoll).

The taxi arrives, and we load up with everything (including car jack and warning triangle) for the final stage of our journey. There is a vague stench of drying printers ink coalescing with engine oil. Thirty minutes later we are banging futilely on the door of Miss Martha’s Boarding House, our chosen Moroccan-run lodging (I told you we were cheapskates). But it’s long closed for the night, and no-one is about to let us in.

The taxi driver is looking bored as I direct him towards alternative accommodation at the Höchster Hof. But that’s fully booked. Finally, at 3am, I play my joker and call out the Sheraton at Frankfurt Airport, where, in a gesture I will never forget, a smiling FOH clerk tells us he has a special room rate of Dm467. He eyes the car jack with obvious suspicion. There are four hours of the night remaining.

For the £50 an hour we will be caressing the bed linen, we could simply have checked in to Frankfurt’s finest bordello, enjoyed all the pleasures that a house of ill repute could offer, played nicely with the strumpet majors, and still had change back from Dm467. All that without the drone of planes taking off and landing.

Arriving at the Messe with strapped bundles of mags next morning and a story to tell, it was a breeze getting face time on every stand we strolled onto that year.

LIVE! Magazine had been started three years earlier (in March 1991). Jay and Vincent Rice, who I’d first met piloting the music at Rock City in Nottingham, provided the inspiration, although I think alcohol had been the real fuel behind this Damascene conversion from disco to technical decency. I can’t recall which of us had the lightbulb moment, but it was in a pub!

Lesson 1: never start prepping a global concert touring magazine unless you are certain that Saddam Hussein isn’t about to marmalise Kuwait. Even as we are saying, “Let’s start a magazine for the international touring community,” every international tour is being canned, as the world tunes into the new CNN News to see Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf’s Operation Desert Storm like it’s the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

By the time we implement the editorial plan, only one major tour remains. In all probability, Motorhead didn’t even know about the skirmish in the Middle East, and besides, Lemmy’s warheads, with Skippy Monk piloting the lighting, would probably wreak equal damage.

Jim Davidson was running Alpha Audio at the time, looking to recycle his inventory from the Buddy tours (Apogee sound systems, Soundcraft desks, etc). He became our early adopter and patron, and for that, we will always love him. Jim emceed several LIVE! Dinner & Awards, making Vari-Lite the butt of his humour at the first event; and in year two, Soundcraft’s Europa desk bore the brunt.

The first edition is a giant mashup with Bob Doyle at Midas, and Keith Dale at Celco, using us respectively to launch the XL3 (sound) and Gold (lighting) control platforms. The grand launch also takes place in Frankfurt (I seem to think we co-opted Martin Audio’s booth, courtesy of Dave Bearman, with Jim Davidson also on hand). Who would ever believe that this, of all cities, is the gift that keeps on giving?

Now I know what you’re wondering. If we crashed the car, how did we manage to get back from Frankfurt three days later?

One of Birmingham’s finest came to our rescue. DJ extraordinaire Sammy de Havilland offered us space in his Saab 900 (particularly after I’d managed to convince Jay we’d have no further need for the Ford’s car jack or the warning triangle). Scorpio would not be rising anymore, no sirree.

Sammy ran a company called Dare Pro- Audio — and on the evidence of the return drive, never has a company been more aptly named. And yes, I do realise that in dropping a name like ‘De Havilland’ into the text, I am in danger of propelling this column back into aerospace once again.

This month’s RoadBlog is dedicated to Johnny Winter, who passed away on July 16th, and the unforgettable interview referenced in last month’s RoadBlog. Rest in peace, blues legend.