It wasn’t long, however, before the palpable – actually, “screaming lack” of those twin drugs “the roar of the grease paint” and “the smell of crowd” in my day to day existence, began unceasingly to play on my mind.
Good fortune, however – just as she has featured so much in my life hitherto – came up with an offer I could not refuse: “Would I like to return – possibly for a couple of years – to a slightly attenuated style of the life I once had led, and in the company of Martin Barre and Clive Bunker – the original Jethro Tull guitarist and drummer – in a world tour celebrating 50 years of the music of Jethro Tull”?
A “no brainer” if ever there was one, and so – in the spring of 2019 – together with three other very capable musicians, two female backing singers and a couple of techies, we set off on the first leg, starting with the first gig at Hudson Falls, in New York State, USA.
By a couple more gigs we were back on top of it, with a show that was as tight as a drum and brimful of energy: not bad, given the combined age of the three of us “Tullettes” totalled close on 230 years!
We then followed the East coast right down to Key West, Florida, and back, playing concerts as we went and travelling in a couple of very comfy Land Cruisers (which, incidentally, in a country as vast as the USA, beats by a distance the endless queuing for hours at airports).
On the occasions when, because of time and distance we had to fly, a wheelchair would be requested for me at check in. Faking infirmity, I would climb (or tumble) into the chair and then be pushed along surrounded by the rest of the group, presenting ourselves en masse at departures and getting through security in Fast Track style! ….(Rock’n Roll, you know)..…
Throughout the year we went on to play in France, Germany and at several UK festivals, being greeted everywhere and, without exception, by audiences both ready and well up for what we had to offer
During 2019 we travelled over 30,000 miles, I celebrated my 82nd birthday (but feeling and acting, still, as a 22 year old), we played well over 50 sell-out gigs to enthusiastic crowds, with the last couple of concerts performed in the celebrated hotel “Beyerischer Hof” in Munich. And then?
Home for Christmas!
What’s not to like?…………………….
With thanks to Amanda Carter for these fab photos!
However……..following a quiet 2019 Christmas spent at home with my two lovely deerhounds, Stig and Barney (who’d been in boarding kennels for a lot of the year) I noticed the onset of a slight dampening of my ardour for the prospect of another year on the road.
This was totally out of character for me – touring has always been a big part of my life – but I was mightily aware of the likely cause.
It was wholly on account of the misleading news reports I.e. fudged and less than half truths concerning an emergent virus, broadcast by the *CCP to the rest of the world: It was Bad Stuff. Real BAD STUFF – big time, and, in my view, likely to get worse, and soon – as we now know – we were all to find out!
The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) were unlikely to admit to that probability. (The truth to them has yet to be explained).
Moreover – and to the very nub of this article – I was about to embark upon a 10 date tour of Central and South America – the least well equipped and medically prepared continent (or land mass) able to cope with a possible pandemic.
By now I had been sent a comprehensive tour schedule; departure and return dates, flight details – both Trans Atlantic and Internal – tour itinerary, hotels and venues, etc. Namely, all the usual stuff plus a reminder to top up my yellow fever jab if I’d gone past my sell by date! Ho – Ho – Ho!
Anyone who has had one – i.e. a Yellow fever jab – knows that the side effects are much worse than the experience of whatever it is supposed to prevent!
Having spent from the age of fifteen serving in the Brigade of Guards (1953 to 1961) I’ve had more injections to go to places (which I could never dare tell my Mum I’d been) and I’ve lived to tell this tale – Yellow fever notwithstanding!
So, as the date on which I was due to fly to South America moved ever closer, the grim reality of what Covid-19 was capable of becoming had begun to assert itself.
As we all know now, the WHO was trying to warn the world of the seriousness of it; Italy’s health care system was teetering on the brink of collapse, and unknown, countless numbers – probably thousands – were dying in China.
So, filled with trepidation at the prospect of meeting an uncomfortable end in a foreign country, I began to hope for the phone to ring, advising me that the tour was off.
It didn’t – and so on March 3rd we flew to Sao Paulo, arriving in the early morning of the 4th. We were now without Clive Bunker but Adam Wakeman (who usually plays for Ozzy Osborne) had joined me on keyboards. (We used to have two keyboard players in Jethro Tull).
On March 5th we played our first concert which, happily, was a triumph but, after coming off stage, fully charged with that old feeling “the flush of success” we were brought rapidly to earth when we learned of the first death from Coronavirus in the UK!
Any sensible, observant bystander would comment that it was clearly stark, raving madness to continue with the tour – but, nevertheless, we did!
In the music business there’s a time honoured code that, if you accept a gig, you either turn up and play or send a competent dep. (It’s been like that in England since the 1600’s).
There was no opting out here. Together with Martin Barre I was one of the musicians the crowds had bought tickets to come to see and hear!
We had one bottle of anti-bacterial fluid to share between all of us. I kid you not! It was just as scarce in Brazil as loo rolls and pasta had become back in Blighty. We all took to carrying a bar of soap and washing our hands every time we had a chance. (Water features in hotel lobbies and shopping malls were not excluded)!
We played our second date (in Curitiba) and then flew down to Rio de Janeiro.
By this time we were hearing news on a daily basis of scheduled South America tours being cancelled by groups as equally renowned as we were. Metallica and Kiss spring to mind.
Several others, including Renaissance, Curved Air, Pat Metheny, Steve Hillage also chickened out, but, like the seasoned troupers we were, we just carried on a rockin’.
What played a big part in deciding to carry on and complete the tour was the fact that, insofar as we knew, the virus had yet to hit Brazil, but it was a bit unnerving driving past the favelas on the way from the airport, knowing that lurking in their midst – in what really is the scariest of cramped environs and where the poorest, most vulnerable people live – existed the perfect conditions for the incubation and spread of this most deadly virus when, eventually, it arrived.
On our first day in Rio – which happened to be a day off – I had one of those rare experiences which, whilst not life changing, will remain with me forever.
It was probably about midnight when, together with two others from the band, I was sitting on the terrace of the 16th floor, roof top bar in our hotel, overlooking Copacabana Beach, The Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Corcavado Mountain (on top of which stands the revered statue of Christ the Redeemer).
What would have been a perfect view of the statue was obscured by a low-lying cloud of mist. My chums soon bid goodnight and went off to bed whilst I remained – just sitting there and thinking. I glanced up at the cloud – why, I know not – but it now seemed almost close enough to touch, and then, before my very eyes, the cloud – slowly and dramatically, began to split into two.
As it did so, a shaft of bright, white light began to emerge through the mist, becoming brighter and brighter, and, as the cloud opened fully, revealed the statue of Christ the Redeemer, bathed in an incandescent light.
It was such an awesome experience, I felt that God was about to speak.
Solipsistic this claim may be but, selfishly, I considered that this remarkable vision was for me alone and, more importantly, a signal that we were safe and in God’s hands.
You’ve just gotta believe it.
We played the Rio gig and, next day, Belo Horizonte. We then flew off to Argentina to play Buenos Aires and were reminded, once again, of the grim conditions in which so many people manage to survive.
The Coronavirus, meanwhile, was taking its toll everywhere else in the world BUT not yet in South America. The fact was it could have been rife wherever we went – we just didn’t know – but none of us had yet developed any symptoms.
Our next gigs were in Chile; Rancagua and Concepcion.
It’s in places like these that you know your are a LONG WAY from home – particularly with the daily news of the ever increasing death toll wreaked by Covid-19. We were still finding it difficult to find Anti-bac lotion and were washing our hands red raw.
Btw, I cannot recommend a visit to Concepcion unless you are researching a location for your dystopian novel that will have your readers grimly (but happily) slashing their wrists! The whole, grey place – and that’s what it is – reminds me of a mix of the worst of Pinochet’s Chile and Moscow before Glasnost, with anti-government graffiti sprayed onto every available surface.
But we played to ‘em all and they clapped. Loud and long. Perhaps it was as much in respect for our lunatic bravery in actually showing up as for our musical offering!
Our next scheduled dates were two gigs in Lima, Peru.
However, when we came off stage following the gig in Concepcion, the English promoter – who was travelling “Shotgun” with us – called a meeting with us to say that he’d been informed that if we went to Peru next day, we’d probably be incarcerated there for weeks, as the borders were to be closed at midnight – just when we’d be playing our encores.
Furthermore, the promoters in Mexico City wanted to cancel the last two gigs of the tour because of the increasingly rapid spread of Coronavirus.
It was, clearly, now time for us to scarper.
And so to bed…..We had managed seven out of the ten dates we’d come to play.
We were up next day at 0500 hrs, whisked to the airport and managed to get the first flight up to Santiago. We then stood in queues ALL day long, hoping to rewrite our return tickets to depart from Santiago for the UK.
Ticket prices were increasing by the minute, but three of the group managed to get onto the last BA flight to Heathrow, one on Iberia to Madrid. The remaining four of us i.e. me, the vocalist and the two techies had the option of staying a night in an airport hotel and trying again next day OR paying a £ransom sums each to fly to Mexico City, layover for a day and then, hopefully, get the last BA flight to Heathrow. We took the latter.
I’ve made many Transatlantic flights in my time – hundreds of ‘em – but never one quite as bad as the one that brought me home to Heathrow the following night. 12 hours locked in a cigar tube; becoming mildly (but increasingly) paranoid about the unshielded coughing and sneezing going on around you; suffering severe cramp because the person in the seat in front of you has it at maximum recline (I.e. in your face) and won’t alter it. Clambering out of your seat to do the necessary stretching exercises in the Galley area every 30 minutes until, finally, an exhausted hour of sleep is yours before landing.
It took me close on nine hours to drive home, stopping at every service station on the M40 and M42 and grabbing a few minutes sleep at each – and then – Argh! – the Droitwich to Knighton section – which, all the time you’re negotiating that final, punishing stretch, you wonder why you didn’t buy that nice little flat in The Barbican!
Nah! You can’t beat the peace and quiet up here – and I’ll be ever grateful to my kind neighbours Steve and Juliet Gibbon and to Simon and Clare Bates for delivering food and keeping me alive during the following, long weeks of lockdown – a period during which I noted pretty well ALL the post 70 year olds, with those my age and more having endured all the hardship and privations of WW2 i.e. the blackout, being bombed out, rationing, etc – that, however cross they were about being classed as “vulnerable”, just buckled down and got on with it, whilst too many others were to be heard moaning about having to stay in their comfortable homes with Wi-Fi, TV and Internet shopping at the click of a mouse!
As a nation, we’ve gone soft.
I was due to be playing on the West coast of USA and Canada this summer, but all bets were off! However, I’ve agreed to start up again in the USA in April, 2021. I’ll tell you about it!”