This month: unsurprisingly, on the road with Rush.....
On Friday 13th May I got up as others were about to go to bed. A huge swathe of my pals had flown over to Dublin the day before to see Rush playing their first ever gig on the Emerald Isle. Arriving at Bolton station early on the Friday morning I picked up Tom Garrett, Mick Paz and David Egan – taking the latter two back to their nearby abodes. None had slept and all were giddy with excitement having seen the almighty Cannuck trio play a reported blinder in Dublin’s O2 Arena. I was somewhat jealous having missed the pre-gig craic, the only standing show of the tour and – by all accounts – a pretty mind-blowing performance.
Still, I could comfort myself with the knowledge that the next day I would see Rush play their first show on British shores since 2007. As I pulled out of Worsley with Garrett and the family in tow I felt that sense of excitement that only Rush can instil in me. Garrett thought he would give sleep a miss so consumed at least three cans of energy drink. As soon as he’d downed the final one he passed out. I used the steering wheel as a drum kit as Rush tunes blasted and the M61 became the M6 and then the M74.
Pulling into Cumbernauld I dropped off my passengers and went to work, visiting two of my employer’s clients in the area. Perhaps it was the adrenaline pumping through me, but whatever the case - they were both really good meetings and the time flew, until 4pm when I jumped on the motorway into Glasgow to start my pre-gig marathon.
There was a sense of trepidation as I booked into the Etap hotel at Springfield Quay. The room was so cheap that I wondered if it would even be habitable. I was thrilled to see it was clean, comfortable and cosy. It didn’t matter that it was basic because all I would be doing was catching forty winks in there.
Outside the Solid Rock with Hainers and Roadcrew
I threw off the suit and donned my armour of jeans, boots and tour t-shirt and made my way in a taxi to my second home, the Solid Rock “cafe” on Hope Street. I love The Solid, as it is affectionately known. It’s a dark, grungy establishment frequented by rock fans. It’s been the scene of several meet-ups over the years, including before Rush last played in Glasgow on the Snakes & Arrows tour. As the afternoon became evening we discovered an unhealthy concoction called Jagermonster – a combination of 70-proof Jägermeister and Monster energy drink. On sale by the jug for a tenner a go, our ever-expanding party got through an inordinate amount of these. By the time the Solid shut we were up on our chairs, singing along to Queen and generally behaving like people who had overdosed on caffeine. I got to catch up with friends old and new – from semi residents at Chez Hard like Matt, Ron and Terry through to folks I only really see on Rush tours (Dave Ogg, Stuart Borland, Alex J etc) and a new batch of incomers – like Aengus (aka Faith Hope Love) and Ross.
With the Solid shutting at midnight and Tom Garrett still alive and well it seemed the only thing to do was visit the Cathouse rock club and its Ballbreaker night. Matt, Terry, Ron and I danced to tunes both cool and dodgy whilst the others looked on in horror. It was the perfect high-spirited end to a wonderfully silly night in Weegieland. After pizza and kebab to steady the ship we got ourselves back to the Etap. As I fell asleep in the double bed I wondered how long it would take Tom Garrett, in our room in a bunk bed over ours, to fart.
On Saturday morning I was awoken not by farting but by the sound of construction work. Well, that’s what I thought it was – until I realised it was Garrett snoring. It really is a sound to behold, akin to a tree being sawn prior to felling. A deep, rumbling, sonorous racket. I’m sure Tom’s own tunefulness woke him up, at which point he let one rip. Normal service resumed.
After a concoction of paracetamol, Rennie and a sausage butty we were back in the Solid just after lunch. It was gig day and the place got fuller and giddier as more and more Rush fans came in and the DJ cranked out Rush tunes on the juxebox and video screens. Lots of new friends arrived, or should that be young friends. The older Rush fan prefers Glasgow’s Bon Accord pub, which has a mellower pace and a dedicated area for hanging up your walking stick. Tom and I were soon joined by an assortment of fellow TNMSers including Patrick, Andy Haines and Linda, Colin Brown and clan, Paz and Dave Egan (now recovered from their Eire experience), Geo and a host of others. Even the Bon Accordians popped in for a swifty – the baldy brothers (Neph and Pete), Woody, Pete Roadcrew, other aged gentlemen.
Outside the SECC
(photo by Captain Ron)
Soon it was show time. After a quick cab across town and a photo opportunity outside the SECC we made our way to our seats and...... that’s where it should have got even better.
I have been spoiled in recent Rush years with stunning tickets for every gig. Although sixth row at the SECC sounds special we were what felt like miles from the stage, far over to guitarist Alex Lifeson’s side. As the band hit the stage to The Spirit of Radio I was underwhelmed by the audience response generally, and to those around us specifically. They were lifeless. Despite being directly under the PA stack the sound was distorted and echoey as it rattled around the SECC’s rafters. Lifeson, usually the life of the party, looked bored rigid. I’m sure there was something up with the rear screen projections. As the set progressed to newer songs the band seemed to slow down, at times to a crawl. They was none of the pizzazz, power and punch I associate with Rush shows. Even acknowledged Rush classic Freewill, with its monumental instrumental / solo section, lacked spark. By “half time” I was feeling underwhelmed and disappointed and a touch apprehensive.
For whatever reason (or maybe it was just me!) it felt like both band and audience had a word with themselves during the interval. The second set was so much better. Rush played the whole of Moving Pictures as if it was their new album. Closer To The Heart threw me with its bizarre punk thrash ending. 2112 ignited the crowd and Far Cry made us jump. The encore of La Villa Strangiato and Working Man saw the band flying once again.
Still, as I made my way out of the venue I was pretty gutted. All my pals were marvelling at the performance but for me it was the most disappointing Rush gig I’d been to. I didn’t have the spirit, enthusiasm or inclination to go back into Glasgow for post-gig celebrations and sloped off back to the hotel.
Rush onstage in Sheffield
During the long drive back home on the Sunday I wondered if Rush had peaked on 2007/8’s Snakes & Arrows tour, and if I would be equally as disappointed when I saw them again in Manchester the following week. Returning to work on the Monday was depressing.
However reports from MickPaz and others led to believe the band were sublime that night in Sheffield. I was excited again. Maybe Manchester would be great after all. The week dragged but eventually Thursday came. Another adrenaline-fuelled morning of work was soon concluded and I was on the M62 to Warrington to pick up my son James, who would be joining me for his second Rush gig experience.
With the Boy and assorted Rush pals at the Moon
Back at Chez Hard Ron and Terry arrived from Nottingham with our new friend Simon LDT in tow. James donned his Rush t-shirt, grabbed his ear defenders and together the seven of us headed up to Manchester on the train. The gathering of Rushheads in the Moon Under The Water was a sight to behold: there’s nothing like walking into a pub and knowing over half of the people drinking in there. So great to catch up with everyone. Also a bit bizarre and a head-job having people I've never met before coming over and saying "oh my god, you're ARH - amazing to meet you"......
”You’re ARH eh?”
The gig experience was stunning and exactly how I wanted it to be. Band on fire. Amazing seats. Awesome watching James and Mhairi getting right into it. I "air played", sang myself hoarse, bounced - and rare for me enjoyed the whole thing completely sober. All the problems with the first set in Glasgow were absent - the songs grooved rather than dragged. The sound was monumental. Tough to pick highlights in such a perfect show but the grimy riff of Stick It Out gave me goosebumps.
The second set melted my brain, and is the reason I reckon this was the best Rush gig I'd been to since 1997.
During Vital Signs – the final song in the Moving Pictures section – I desperately needed a wee. On my way back to my seat I walked past a grey-haired man with an incredibly well-spoken English accent and thought..... “I know you”......
Realisation soon dawned. It was Rupert Hine. The man who produced my favourite Rush album (Presto) – probably better known as the maestro behind albums by Stevie Nicks, The Waterboys, Chris De Burgh and Tina Turner. Never one to miss a trick I bounded over and introduced myself, said thank you for Presto, and asked if I could have my photo taken with him. As the picture was shot he turned to me and said something like “those chaps in Rush were by far the nicest gents I’ve ever worked with”. I shook his hand and scarpered, safe in the knowledge that My Moment With Rupert had been caught on camera for posterity.
After the gig our posse caught the train back out to Walkden from whence I drove James home. He was buzzing and didn't stop talking all the way back to Warrington. I arrived back at Chez Hard at around 1am and partied with Berr, El Capitain, Matt, SimonLDT, Zedskin and her friends Lynn and John. Most of them lasted until just after 9am at which point I tidied up the carnage, had a shower and caught a train to a work function. Getting home at 3pm I found SimonLDT looking ashen and on the verge of death. Terry and Ron were just about alive and well enough to escape. Poor Matt was forced into another night with us. I passed out around midnight after a memorable and utterly superb couple of days.
Aftershow Party, Chez Hard
And really that should have been it for me and Rush in 2011. However......
In late April my colleague Mary and I had gone to meet a firm of solicitors in Manchester to see if our two companies could form a reciprocal link. The outcome was that I would need to meet one of the legal practice’s Partners in their head office in Guildford. I emailed said Partner with a whole host of dates from my diary to which he replied saying 25th May was his preferred option. At the time it wasn’t lost on me that I would be 30 miles away on that day from where Rush were playing the O2 Arena in London’s Docklands but unable to go. But then another meeting with a key client came to be scheduled on the 24th, another on the 25th and one more on the 26th. With a bit of judicious organisation I was suddenly able to make it.
That gave me four days to find a ticket. I thought maybe I’d call in a favour with the record company, or just buy one on the day, or see if someone on the Rush fan forum I frequent could assist. I prepared myself for being up in the gods but told myself I would be happy just to be there. Until my pal Nicola B contacted me saying she had a spare ticket in the second row and would I like it? The stage was set.
Leaving Manchester on the 24th I can rarely recall being so excited. I hadn’t slept much the night before. The four hour journey passed by hastily – with phone calls to Rush pals on the M6 and then Rush music blasting as I headed down the M40. The only drag was the last 20 or so miles around the M25, a road I haven’t travelled on for years and had forgotten about its appallingness. No wonder there are so many accidents on it: the ability to drive like a maniac seems a prerequisite. As I pulled into Guildford the sun came out and I had that bizarre moment when you get out of a car you’ve been sat in for hours: legs didn’t work, shirt stuck to back, bad hair from driving with the window down.
”Mum and Dad”
After a couple of meetings I made the short hop into Leatherhead to spend the evening with Neil and Louise Pudney. I first met Neil in cyberworld, eventually having my first pint with him at the Green Man pub in Wembley before Rush played there on their 30th Anniversary Tour. Neil is much, much older than me (well “almost 50” is really old when you’re still in your 30s eh?) and thus as well as being my buddy is also a bit of a sage. For that reason I call him Dad. Sitting in his garden enjoying a brew and a chat with “Mum and Dad” we enjoyed accompaniment from their son Luke who was tearing through a couple of tunes from Moving Pictures and showing through his guitar skills that, as Dad put it, “he NEEDS to be in a band”.
After booking into my hotel Neil and I headed into Leatherhead for a curry and a catch-up. Unlike the last time I came to Leatherhead he didn’t fall off his chair in the pub. As the food and beer flowed we discussed his taste in ancient music (Barclay James Harvest for example), whether or not we might see Rush playing a festival in the UK in 2012, what his other son Sam might be up to in Swansea, and the way our lives had gone since first meeting seven years ago. As he headed home at a respectable time I went back to my hotel room and surfed the web (and finished off the beers) until falling asleep around 3am.
I awoke on the 25th to the strains of the Moving Sidewalks’ “Joe Blues” wailing from my mobile phone. Usually I would have turned it off and gone back to sleep, but not today. Caffeine and a shower wiped away the fog and I was soon on my way to a meeting at Tesco’s HQ in Welwyn Garden City. It was the only the second time I’d been back to that part of Hertfordshire since I lived there for six months in 2000. Tesco’s estate is mightily impressive – a series of buildings in which several thousand people work. My host took me to the staff canteen where I was fed and watered. My colleague Mary asked if I saw the underground bunker where Tesco plot world domination, but I couldn’t find it. After the meeting I drove past the house I lived in eleven years ago and shuddered at the memory. Whilst it was nice living near to my dad’s sister and her family, my memories of those days are all bad – primarily because the job I relocated down there for turned out to be...... not for me.
On the work front things are changing for me again shortly. After a very happy stay at Glovers I am off to work for a regionally active building contractor as Senior Business Development Manager. I start on 6th June. One must be careful about discussing reasons for changing jobs in the public domain. Next time I see you I’ll tell you all about it in person.
But I digress.....
My plan after the Tesco meeting was to leave my car at my aunt’s house in Welwyn Garden City. From there I would head into London to meet “Henry Munro” of Wembley Stadium outside the O2 Arena. After finishing with him I would have a few cheeky sherbets, go to the gig, and then see where Tony O’Connell would take me afterwards. This was all fine and dandy until I discovered my parents would be at my aunt’s house when I returned to collect the car next day. As regular readers of this blog will know I (a) love my parents dearly and (b) am a proud man. The thought of my mum and dad having to see me in my usual post-gig state (yet alone my aunt) made me look for an alternative car parking space.
Pre gig refreshment with Gezza, Oz and Dave Egan
A quick call to my hombre Thilo Rising afforded me the opportunity to leave the Citroen in a leafy, quiet part of East Finchley. I walked to the tube and marvelled at how different the climate was in London. The North West had endured solid rain for weeks and it had been so cold the heating had been deployed at Chez Hard. In North London the lawns were brown, the air humid, and the locals tetchy. By the time I got on the Northern Line train I was regretting wearing my leather jacket and sweating profusely.
An hour later I walked out of North Greenwich Station and marvelled at the Millennium Dome, now the 02 Arena. My mates were congregating at a pub nearby and I had no idea where it was. A quick phone call to Bez was of no use whatsoever. “Can you see the big yellow crane Andy?”
“OK, how about the David Beckham soccer academy?”
“OK well get the O2 behind you and keep walking....... And hurry up because we’re about to go somewhere else”
“Oh no, are you?”
Twat. So there I was wandering around car parks near the Dome when a work contact called. Just so happened she lived in Greenwich recently. “I can direct you to The Pilot Inn, no trouble”. On arrival I was met by big Bez, “Henry Munro” (aka Oz) and “mum and dad” (the Pudneys). As the afternoon wore on and lager turned into other things a whole host of southern softies and northern monkeys joined us. The Scottish contingent arrived en masse. By 5pm the outside of the Pilot Inn was a flood of Rush t-shirts and hyperactive middle aged men (plus Lucy, Louise and Linda). Bez got his foot stool picture, and I kissed everyone. It was great.
As show time approached I made my way into the venue (via the Slug & Lettuce) and was stunned by the size of the place. There must have been 15,000 people in there. I had one of those every-four-years moments as I walked down through the arena..... kept going.... and going..... until I arrived at my second row seat. Those on the front row were already leaning against the stage barrier, meaning second row really meant front row for me. My ticket saviour Nicola was rabid with excitement. Three rows behind me Fred Barchetta wasn’t much calmer. As the house lights went up and the intro video commenced, I knew this would be a special show.
Fred Gets Excited, at the O2
The O2 gig ended up being my tour highlight. My inhibitions were absent after an afternoon of sunshine, ale and good friends. My 2nd row seat was stunning – right in front of Lerxst. The sound was loud, rumbling and in your face. Every song hit the mark. Alex Lifeson and I had several eye contact moments. I rocked out like I like to. Faithless, Presto, Leave That Thing Alone and BU2B were all massive, whilst the Moving Pictures material was even bigger. It was, for me, sheer perfection.
As the band left the stage I made my way, bruised and battered and dehydrated and knackered, back to the Slug & Lettuce. I hoped Tony O’Connell would be up for taking me back to our digs so I could sleep. Oh silly boy......
Half an hour later we were on a tube into London. An hour later Matt, Fred, Tony and I were in Burger King at Leicester Square. Two hours later we were wandering around Tottenham Court Road and Covent Garden trying to find somewhere to party. Shortly after that we were back where we started and in the kind of night club that makes my skin crawl: expensive drinks, trendy crowd, DJ who is a superstar in his own mind but a total knob in reality, and absolutely nothing of interest to me whatsoever. Being a good boy I stayed off the ale and kept myself awake with Monster energy drink. My feet were killing me. When the house lights went out at 3am and Tony suggested a cab home I had to stop myself from biting his hand off.
As I collapsed into bed in Limehouse at 3.30am Matt was opening a can of Red Stripe. It was that kind of day.
It was that kind of tour.
And that’s only the half of it. I haven’t mentioned what I said to Paul Scholes at the Worsley Marriott, or why Mike Rutherford of Genesis wouldn’t have his picture taken with me at the Midland Hotel. I’ve not told you about the charity auction us Rush fans held or the £870 we raised. I’ve missed out so much. Most of it will be lost in the midst of time. Some of it will live long in my mind.
I am Andrew Field. I am 39 years old. And I LOVE Rush.