Our hero finds himself on 31-date, major arena jaunt. Playing second guitar in a reformed Led Zeppelin? Helping out The Stones? McCartney? Elton? U2? Nothing so passé, dear... it’s the Strictly Come Dancing Tour!
Dances From A Small Island
after a week of rehearsals in London’s deeply untrendy Kings cross industrial estate, the strictly come Dancing tour tangos out of town. Four continuous weeks of sell-out arena gigs, culminating in six shows in London (two at Wembley arena; four at the O2 arena). Make no mistake, this is a proper tour. any band would kill to make it this big. By the time we hit the billowing pillows of the canary Wharf Marriott hotel on the last night, we will have played to nearly 200,000 foxtrot fanatics.
We perform the opening waltz of this Ballroom Bonanza in Birmingham, at the national indoor arena for a week of full company rehearsals and then five performances. sixteen trucks, four crew buses and two artiste coaches disgorge their contents into the giant Brummie shed that describes this passable imitation of all the other giant sheds that we will visit for the next month.
somewhere in the midst of this terrifying scene of half-erected scaffolding, lighting, cameras, hard hats and shouting, is the primordial outline of a stage. and on that stage my five instruments, flight-cased amp and accessories await me.
i proceed to set up amid the chaos. it’s a tad laborious but i have learned from experience that it will get easier with repetition. and repetition there will most certainly be. thirty-one bits of repetition.
For those that have quickstepped their way thus far, i send three separate feeds to the sound desk. a simple microphone suffices to waft my banjo stylings to an unsuspecting world for if You could see Me now. a Di box receives a jack input from both my electro-acoustic and electro-classical guitars. i interface a volume pedal between it and them, thereby allowing me to use one jack plug to switch between both instruments without detonating unwanted acoustic explosions throughout the arena. it seems to be appreciated by the sound chaps, who even provide me with a cute mini foldback wedge to monitor my efforts.
the third feed is from my miked up Mesa-Boogie amp, through which i play my heavily modified clapton strat (or upper clapton strat, as this former hackney boy refers to it) and Gibson L-4. in between is my pedal board, containing the usual stuff. compressor, overdrive (Fulltone OCD), a rather nice retro Boss Digital Dimension pedal in lieu of chorus, a noise gate and a combined delay and reverb. another volume control sits at the end of the chain. it’s all rather retro. however, the computery, digital fun is all around.
We listen on headphones to click tracks for all the dances. the clicks are ‘mapped’ for each dance arrangement. that way the dancers get to hear the music exactly as they wish to perform to it. and means that there can be no complaints. it’s the same every night. the fact that i start to doubt if i will actually play in time ever again is but a small price to pay.
at the conclusion of our stay in each of Britain’s mostly northern cities we pack down the gear. this consists of a speeded-up backwards movie version of the set-up, as the stage is invaded by dozens of locally hired crew. i disassemble the gear as if my life depends on it (which it almost certainly does) and flee the vicinity to the soundtrack of apocalypse now. Within an astonishingly few minutes the entire staging has been reduced to its component parts.
i slip out of my fetching black suit and matching accessories and head for the artiste bus.
there’s no Business Like show Business... Which is the last tune of the night. every night.
Sixteen trucks, four crew buses and two artiste coaches disgorge their contents into a giant Brummie shed.