Thursday 29 November 2012

                                  Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 7 


  I was due to meet Neil off his flight from Toronto on the morning of Wednesday 20th April. I travelled to London the night before and stayed at a hotel near to Heathrow airport. I arrived in plenty of time, and parked the car in the short term parking. Enquiring at the information desk, I was told which gate to go to.  Don’t ask me why I didn’t just check with the TV screens for the arrival gate ? I watched, and waited as what seemed like an endless stream of passengers arrived. No Mr Peart. After half an hour or so, I began to get worried. There were no mobile phones in those days, and the Anthem offices wouldn’t be open for hours. Panic set in. I ran back to the information desk where I was told I had been given the wrong gate. With a sinking heart I rushed to the new location, and in vain searched for my colonial cousin. How could I have been so stupid ? My first assignment of the tour and I had failed miserably. Then, to my relief, I saw Neil pushing a trolley, nervously puffing on a ciggie, looking around for his driver.

I hurried over, said “hello” and explained what had happened. The poor guy was so confused by my non appearance he had bought some cigarettes, and started smoking again. Of course I wasn’t aware then that some of the Anthem bosses had questioned Neil’s sanity in employing an ex-criminal for this very important post. Poor Neil must have thought his worst night-mare had occurred. Had his old mate sold the car before the tour had even started, ? Or had I been arrested again, and even as he waited, was I languishing in some jail ? I think he was so relieved that I had eventually turned up, he forgot to give me the bollocking I truly deserved.
We loaded Neil’s cases into the car, and prepared to set off. Neil had recently been on holiday in Africa, and he told me, in a letter, their driver had only one tape which had been played continuously. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” As I started the engine that familiar sound came from the stereo. I had bought it as a joke. Neil looked at me, and smiled. He realized straight away what I had done, and why. However from then on all the music played on our travels would be his choice !
We were going to Manchester for the night, and then back down to the NEC  in Birmingham the next day. The rest of the band was staying at the Mayfair Inter Continental Hotel in London. We were soon into our usual routine of talking and travelling. As we past the M6 turn off from the M1, Neil asked if we should have taken that exit. Without any hesitation I replied “No, we are taking the scenic route”, and went on to explain we would cut across from the M1 to Manchester via Snakehead Pass. In fact I was so busy chatting, I had missed it all together !
The time flew by so quickly that I was amazed when we saw our turn off, we had alreday travelled over a hunderd miles. As we started to climb at the bottom of the pass, there was an articulated lorry in front of us. When we reached a straight piece of road, I pulled out to overtake but the driver had different ideas. He swerved across in front of us, and I was just able to stop before we were slammed into a stone wall. Neil was up, out of the open sun roof, hurling obscenities, and giving the errant driver the finger before the car was stationary. Once again I was aware that one little accident, which didn’t need to be my fault, and the whole European leg of the tour could be off.
We arrived safely in Manchester, and checked into the Ramada Renaissance Hotel on Deansgate. Neil, tired after his long flight, and car journey, said he was going to have an early night. I popped out for something to eat ( I was on a daily wage and expenses but this didn’t, apart from breakfast, include eating in the four and five star hotels we would be staying at ). When I returned I rang Chris and invited him to come for a drink. We met in the hotel bar. I think he was hoping Neil would make an appearance, so when I told him Neil was already in bed, he was a little disappointed. Once again Chris was in the same building as Neil but didn’t get to see him.
We only had a couple of drinks as the next day my job would start in earnest. I was about to find out what touring with a big rock band was really like, just what a Rush tour entailed. I couldn’t have envisaged this in my wildest dreams.
Neil gave me a couple of bits of good advice before the tour started. Bring plenty of reading material as there would be a lot of time spent hanging about hotels and venues. The second was to make sure I had a watch that kept good time. As previously stated, when I am working I consider myself to be a punctual person. I found out on this tour I had to be ! If Mr Peart said we would check out of a hotel at a certain time it had to be within a minute. That meant I had to be at reception checked out, when Neil arrived. The next morning I turned up at the allotted time to find him there, waiting for me. I wasn’t late, just not prepared for the boss to have already checked out, and expecting the same of me.
There has been a lot written about Neil feeling uncomfortable around fans. I found out on this first day he didn’t like to be kept waiting one second more than was necessary at a hotel reception as it left him vulnerable to the public.

We drove to Birmingham and found the NEC. Not an easy task as every turn off seemed to be for that place. We arrived in plenty of time for the 1-00 pm dead line sound check was at 2-00 pm.
 We drove through the security check point showing our passes, and then along a small road up to the rear doors. I now saw for the first time what a Rush tour meant in terms of vehicles, and personnel. Remember the last tine I had been involved with a band, all the gear, and musicians plus the roadie, were able to travel in a Ford Transit van.
There were three tour buses, six articulated lorries, and all sorts of people milling around. Add to this several vehicles for the film crew as the shows at the NEC were to be filmed, and you can imagine my amazement at this scene
I drove the BMW through the large open roller doors and into the back stage area. There seemed to be organized chaos every where. People like so many ants, swarming all over the place. Wide eyed I watched as this seemingly disorganized crowd went about their individual business. I was soon to realize each and everyone had a purpose and knew exactly what they and each other were doing.
Neil took me to the production office, the heartbeat of the shows, and introduced me to various members of the Rush hierarchy. Howard Ungerleider, tour manager and lighting director. Liam Birt, stage manager. Pegi Cecconi, a senior executive with Anthem and others. We then went into the stage area where I met more people involved with the tour. Larry Allen, Neil’s drum technician, Don Collins, head rigger, Tony Geranios, keyboard technician and George Steinert who was the stage carpenter. I also learned George worked for Neil while not touring, responsible for the maintenance at his house.
I was soon left to my own devices as Neil had things to do. If I had expected to just hang out with my old mate when he wasn’t actually working then I was in for a big surprise !
Neil in working mode is a totally different being to the guy I knew in London. He is ultra professional and, expects those around him to be the same. I guess the only time he is comfortable on a tour is when he is on stage playing. I know that also applied as we travelled together between shows. Being very comfortable in each others  company, and me not being very knowledgeable about music in general, and about Rush in particular, made it easier for Neil to relax. Once we were driving it was like the old days, two friends chatting, and the pressure of the tour forgotten. We rarely discussed the shows as I drove. I guess this was why I was offered the job in the first place.
I am not going to go into the NEC shows in detail as I am going to quote Chris Lea’s version. Not only is Chris’s memory of that time so much clearer than mine but he has much more awareness about Rush, and their equipment. Until Chris told me I couldn’t even recall that Neil, and I stayed in a different hotel to the others while in Birmingham. Those first few days of the ’88 tour really are just a blur. There was so much going on, so much new stuff to take in, and always at the back of my mind, once false move while driving, and the tour could be cancelled. I didn’t really start to enjoy it until we reached mainland Europe when I began to relax.
My head was spinning with my attempt to take it all in.
The tour had really started at last !

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