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Miscellaneous - The European Invasion Part 1

  by Philip Vincent

published: 18 / 5 / 2007

Miscellaneous - The European Invasion Part 1


In the opening instalment of a new episode in his 'Tales of the Sound Desk' series, sound engineer/tour manager Phil Vincent tells of travelling across Europe with a rising indie band, and a fraught first day surviving lost passports, a dodgy van and Rotterdam's lack of parking facilities

Day 1 Bournemouth to Rotterdam. Its 4.30 am on Friday. The alarm on my mobile phone is slowly getting louder and louder and I am thinking to myself “Why?” "Why what ?" you may ask, and that would be a very good question. Today I am going to Europe, Rotterdam to be precise, by van to tour manage and work as the sound man at a show at 10 pm European time. I am currently in Bournemouth with the van. The band are in Portsmouth and we are booked on a Eurostar crossing at 9.05. Needless to say I get up do all the stuff you have to do before leaving the house, get in the van and head to Portsmouth. So far the journey is going fine. I get to the band's house on time. We load up all the gear with no issues and I then ask the frankly simple question “Have you all got your passports ?” At this point I feel I should fill you in on the previous week's events. The guitarist/drummer in the band is a gentleman called Will. Up until the Monday before the European dates he had a passport. Then in a moment of pure brilliance he decided to get very drunk and lose it. Cue tour manager and Will on a frantic trip to the passport office where they are told that because Will has lost one passport already they will have to do further checks and can’t issue a new one until then. They tell us that UK immigration will let us out of the country, French immigration may let us into and out of their country, but UK immigration may not let us back in on our way back. To try and combat this we have put together a box of press clippings of the band, Will's driving licence and utility bills to try and prove he is who he says he is and this humorously becomes entitled 'Will's Magic Box'. Anyway back to the story… “Have you all got our passports ?” This is an essential question when considering that one of the tour party doesn’t and I am assured by all present that all passports are present and correct. So we continue on our way and the journey runs as smooth as it can in a P reg Mercedes splitter van with 290,000 miles on the clock, no bonnet release catch, a dodgy indicator and a sometimes non functioning ignition. (Sadly, none of that is exaggerated.) We get to Dover in good time, have a look round duty free, get some food and then head for check in. The English passport control wanted to see our passports (remember earlier I asked that everyone had them !) so I hand over Will's box and begin to explain and slowly everyone else’s passports filter forward to me, except one. Yes, that’s right. Even after asking them, one of the band has forgotten his passport. Now about this time my opinion of this tour begins to slip, two band members without passports, a slightly dodgy van, me driving in Europe (I’ve never done this before) and finally the fact that no one speaks Dutch in the band. A winning combination. Just as I am considering a change in career the passport control guy says we will be fine and to go forward to French passport control and see what happens. Now I’m not really one for stereotyping whole nations but the French guy at passport control was literally sitting with his feet up on his desk smoking a Gauloise and drinking black coffee. If the situation hadn’t been so stressful I would have laughed. He looks up over the top of his newspaper and says “Passports?” At which point I begin to explain in English what our predicament was. This doesn't, however, seem to be really working and he says again “Passport?” but slightly louder and with an annoyed sound. Shit. But then, what’s this ? A knight in shining armour riding down the loading ramp! Well, no, its Adam the lead singer, who suddenly reminds us all that he has a degree in French and German and launches into some of the fastest French speaking I have ever heard. This seems to placate the passport man and amazingly he lets us through. It makes me feel real safe about who gets in our country. The rest of the trip to Rotterdam goes fairly smoothly, so I shall fast forward through the 11 hours of driving to us loading out of the first of our two shows that day at a radio station somewhere in the city. It’s 8 pm and we are all back in the van following Sally our Satnav system (Seriously, God bless Satnav. How the hell did anyone tour before this wondrous invention ?) to the next venue, with the plan being to drop the band off, while myself and our management’s assistant, Emma, who is travelling with us will go and check us in at the hotel, leave the van there and head back to the venue on foot. We find the venue without any problems and once we realise we just have to park on the edge of the street, we begin to load in. As soon as the gear is in I jump back in the van, tap the hotel address into Sally and head off. Eventually we arrive at the Golden Tulip hotel but seem to come unstuck as there is no obvious entrance to the car park from the road or in fact anywhere to park the van at all. Emma jumps out and goes to the hotel to find out what the deal is. Meanwhile I drive round the block (quite a large block at that) until I see her come out. I pull up on the pavement where she tells me that the hotel's parking garage is being rebuilt and that there is a paying car park round the corner. She then gives me a piece of paper with some directions in broken English from the receptionist and off I go leaving Emma with all the bags to check in. Now I think it’s prudent at this point to just lay down some bare facts about the day so far. I left my flat in Bournemouth at about 4.45 am and due to the incredibly tight schedule had to drive pretty much continuously until we reached Rotterdam. We reached Rotterdam about 6 pm. European time (I’ll do the maths for you, 12 hours on the road), played a radio show and then at about 7.45 pm we drove to the new venue arriving at about 8 pm. By the time Emma and I had found the hotel and been given the directions to the parking garage its about 8.40 pm. In this time I have eaten a cheese roll and drunk a couple of litres of water. The day has been really hot with Europe experiencing a freak heat wave of around 30 degrees so I think in hindsight I was suffering minor heat stroke too. If you couple this with the fact I have never driven in Europe before, let alone around a major foreign city where things work differently (on their traffic lights they go red straight to green. They have no amber stage meaning if you look away for a second the light has generally gone green. They also have trams and millions of bicycles, both of which have right of way over cars and literally come out of nowhere travelling at obscene speeds) and all this in a massive Mercedes van which I have driven once before. Pretty much my brain is totally fried and my emotional state is hanging on a very fine thread. It is as I drive up the main drag in Rotterdam that I take the first real look at the directions I have been given and realise quite how bad they are. They read like this. “Continue up road to left turn turn left go across 2 and left turn twice you will see garage on left.” I deduce from this that I have to go left and so proceed to go left and then left again finding myself in a coach park. In hindsight I should have left the van there and just dealt with the consequences in the morning but at that moment in time with my level of, well, let's just call it emotional breakdown, my neurotic brain figures that the van will be towed away and we will be stranded in Rotterdam, so I leave the van at the coach park and walk to the nearest hotel to ask for directions. As I walk through the doors I am praying to every deity going that the receptionist speaks English. It works! She tells me that the car park is literally just round the corner, so back to the van I go and lo and behold there it is. The most beautiful car park I have ever seen. I drive down the ramp and at the last minute this heavenly vision is destroyed by the evil curse of a height restriction barrier. Put simply, the van won’t fit. Shit again. I now have to reverse the very long van up the very twisty ramp hoping that all the Dutch people behind me feel sympathy for the annoying English man in his white van and reverse as well. Luckily they do and I make it to the road. I am now at my wit's end. A huge part of me wants to just break down and cry in the street. Everything today has pretty much gone against me but with my final frayed edges I pull myself together and with Satnav in hand head back through the streets of Rotterdam to our hotel to see if they can suggest anywhere else. 20 minutes later I arrive and spring the news that the van won't fit. The receptionist gets out a tourist map and circles an area where there is on the street parking. By now I am totally disillusioned and just don’t care. I get in the van and throw it round the city like a rally driver. Nothing more can go wrong today. We eventually find some parking on a really peaceful street next to the river. The only issue being that parking fees start at 8 am and you can’t prebuy time so I will have to be at the van by that time to buy parking time. We leave the van and walk to the venue. By now I am an old master at the streets of Rotterdam and I get myself and Emma to the venue without the use of a map or Satnav. We roll into the venue about 10 pm (sixteen and a half hours after leaving my flat). The band very kindly had ordered us some food before the kitchen shut and the lukewarm spinach and feta wrap is the most gorgeous tasting thing I had ever eaten. The show goes off without a hitch in front of a sold out and very attentive audience. The promoter allows us to leave our gear in overnight. We get paid and had a really nice walk back to the hotel where I proceed to pass out and sleep until morning.

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