SUMMER 2012 – MOSCOW TO NORWAY
Directly after playing a one-off show on the Adriatic coast of Italy in Rimini to 20,000 people, Steve Stevens and I hot-foot it across to Russia to join up with our compadres and start the Billy Idol European tour. Sounds glamorous. Exciting. Jet Set. Now let me paint the same scenario using a slightly different angle. Following a quick 3 day trip (just enough time to NOT adjust to the time zone) in 103 degree heat and no air conditioning, Steve Stevens and I found ourselves alone in Frankfurt airport (one of the largest in the world) dragging more suitcases, bags and guitars than we had appendages, across two Terminals to try and catch another flight. Late, hot, tired and unassisted, we fought language barriers, overweight angry tourists with resentments and issues, barely making our connection. At Moscow airport, we got separated and while Steve struggled to communicate with a driver that spoke zero English, I argued with dodgy looking airport security in black suits and shades to let me back in the building. A few well placed cellphone calls later (that probably cost about $100!!) and we found each other. Either way you look at it, the end result is that we are in Russia and getting ready to begin the summer European Tour.
Jeremy and I met up this morning and had a casual coffee and croissant in the hotel bar. Chatting about what tattoo’s we’re gonna get in Germany, we’re both tired but happy to be underway on the tour and looking forward to doing this TV thing today. Then the waitress brings the bill. $60. Two coffees and two croissants. No wonder they can afford to put gold domes on the roofs of every building in this city! We meet up with the rest of the band, jump into the cars and head off into the bustling, traffic-filled streets of Moscow. Now let me pause for a second here to explain something to anyone who sits complaining in traffic on the 405 Freeway, or the M6 Motorway, or any of the known traffic congestion spots in NYC, Paris, Milan, etc …… You have no IDEA how easy you have it!!! These guys here take absolutely no prisoners. I mean, it is a serious battlefield out here on the streets of Moscow.
To start with, the lane markings on the asphalt are of no use whatsoever. On any given two way street there are about seven streams of cars, pushing and shoving and funneling their way down it, jostling for position and trying not to hit the other seven streams of cars coming in the other direction, doing the same thing! And then you have the junctions. Oh my God, the junctions. Try and imagine this, if you will. You pull up at a red light at a major intersection. You are first at the lights, so you are waiting at the white line that crosses the street. The streams of cars that have the green light for the other direction (at right angles to you) are howling through the junction in front from left to right. Suddenly, one of those cars slams on its brakes and begins REVERSING to get himself in FRONT of you, effectively changing direction and making a new ‘front line’ at your light. Then another car does the same. And THEN even more cars start doing that to THOSE drivers. Now you are NOT at the front of the lights. You are three rows back, and the rows in front of you extend INTO the center of the intersection!!!! Cars that are not pulling this crazy stunt are simply swerving around the culprits without slowing down and continuing on from left to right!! Chaos does not begin to describe it. When your lights eventually go green, it’s similar to the start of a Formula One Grand Prix….. except with Fiats and Toyotas instead of race cars. 20 vehicles hurtle across the intersection, all jostling and battling for position.
OK. Enough on the traffic. Although I will tell you that parking is easy in Moscow. You can park anywhere. No, seriously, I mean ANY where! Up on the sidewalk, double parked, triple parked, sideways, lengthways, anyways….. it’s like they drive down the street, see the address they want…… and then simply stop and get out!! So anyway, we make it to the TV station, and after some swift negotiation with the man holding a well-used AK47 machine gun, we are allowed in. It’s pretty much the same deal as any U.S. TV show – soundcheck, camera blocks, wardrobe, make up, hurry up and wait……. NOW! You get up there, pull your best Rock Manual 101 poses, do your 4 minute song (Rebel Yell, in our case) and that’s it. We sounded great. Done deal. After signing some stuff and taking pics with all the wonderful Russian fans, we head back to the hotel, and Jeremy, myself and Laurence (one of our managers) venture out into the city, finding a fantastic Italian restaurant on the banks of the Volga river, overlooking the Kremlin. Some mushroom risotto and insanely good bread and oil cure the remnants of jet lag, and we sit quietly appreciating the view of this crazy, eclectic, wonderful city.
The Arena in Moscow. First show of the tour. And what a way to kick it off. The atmosphere inside is electric – everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is smoking cigarettes, drinking free vodka, and checking out the Russian Maxim Magazine birds that are sauntering about the place in bikinis. What’s not to like?! Apparently they are the opening act…. We’ve had worse! It’s a “vote for Miss Maxim Russia” competition so we act accordingly and all gather by Matt’s monitor console and shout our votes out from the side of the stage. A strange opening act for sure, but if the concept of having support acts is to warm the crowd up, then this one works. By the time we come on to our intro tape, Moscow is making a hell of a noise. We launch into Ready Steady Go and for me, I just know I’m gonna have a good one. My mix is tight, I feel awake, comfortable and confident, and sure enough my show is great. It’s SO good to be back with everyone and playing these songs again. The new ones sound tight and the ‘new’ Gen X track, Heavens Inside, fits perfectly. It’s a hot one tonight, so my choice of leathers for on-stage attire is not particularly inspired – by the end of the set I’ve lost about 5 lbs in sweat, and it’s all collected in my boots!! But I’m happy with the gig, pissed off that my pizza I ordered for after-show food never arrives, and if that’s the worst thing about the day, then I have a pretty amazing life!! Back to the hotel and I get a decent 7 hours sleep. Goodbye Russia, hello Sweden.
I absolutely love Stockholm. And we have two days here. We arrive about 9.00pm at night (and it’s still totally daylight!) and the city’s beautiful, blonde, skinny, good-looking population seem to ALL be out in the bars and restaurants, enjoying the balmy summer evening. It’s SO busy that Jeremy, Derek and myself can’t find a table at a restaurant to eat, but just wandering around the cool architecture and taking in the Scandinavian vibe is enjoyable. The next day, after hitting the gym, we do more of the same – outdoor coffees, some retail therapy, a visit to the old town, and a fantastic Italian meal in the evening. The city is full of bicycles and even has city air pumps scattered around for people to pump up their tires. There’s public wifi everywhere, English is spoken naturally (along with Swedish – a proper bilingual culture) and literally every person we meet, including taxi drivers, are friendly and helpful. There’s a few cities I can think of that could benefit from a leaf or two out of Stockholm’s book. I feel rested here, and serene (something that doesn’t come easily for me) and there’s an intangible gentleness about this place – it does me good to be here. Finally the bus arrives at the hotel and we pick our bunks, and set off for the festival, about 3 hours drive away. After an hour or so of musical bunks, each person searching for the ideal nest with power, curtains that shut etc, I find myself happy with my purchase….the front of the bus, upstairs, with space for the PS3 and plenty of power outlets.
The show in Sweden is the ‘Peace And Love’ festival and the vibe is very ‘urban traveller’…. Multi-colored dreadlocks, army jackets and the obligatory dog on a string. Incense burns (along with various herb like substances) and the smell of the roasted pig burgers (I’m serious!) wafts inexorably towards our dressing room tents. Festivals are definitely an acquired taste, and mainly should be enjoyed after drinking copious amounts of lager and smoking anything that gets passed your way. The stage is nice and big and we have loads of room up there – and the crowd are great. McG lays it down with his new Warwick bass and it sounds so strong….and I can hear every note, widdle and pick stroke that Steve Stevens plays. I struggle when we get to Flesh For Fantasy, however. This is the first song that requires me to switch to my clean sound, and as we launch into the opening and I gently strum the first chord, all I can hear is huge distortion and delay for days. NOT the sort of thing you wanna hear in a softer, cleaner, jangly opening of a song! It takes me and Jimbo the whole song to figure out that a cord has been unplugged while the gear got pushed to the stage and my rack system is not switching from dirty to clean channels! With the problem sorted out, the rest of the set is fairly easy and Sweden makes a hell of a noise for Billy Idol. With the show done, it’s on to the bus and a quick game of Max Payne 3 before I pass out and wake up in Norway.
I can now add the following sentence when I describe my work and my career so far….. “and then there was the time we played an Olympic-sized ski jump with Kiss in the mountains of Norway”….. yeah, bizarre but true! The festival in Norway is at the base of the biggest, most intimidating ski ramp I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen that many….. in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before. But you get my point – this thing is HUGE! And people strap two bits of aluminum to their feet and hurl themselves down this thing at breakneck speed and launch themselves into the air. Rather you than me, mate! Luckily, my job is to strap a guitar on and play Billy idol songs to tens of thousands of enthusiastic Norwegians, which I do perfectly well tonight. My gig is good, my guitars sound great (thanks Jimbo – stellar work tonight!) and the rest of the band rock hard. Billy gets everyone’s hands in the air and we finish with White Wedding. The bus is stocked well with all kinds of European goodies – carbs for days (they love a good piece of bread out here!), fruit, juices, candy…… everything a tired but happy guitarist could want to get him through the 9 hour drive to Denmark and the beginning of week two of the tour.