As ready as I’ll ever be….

The car’s packed, though doubtless I’ll have forgotten something or other as usual. Travelling light this time: my guitar amps are out of their flightcases and I’ll be using HB’s piano rather than my own for the next four days. It’s off to Birmingham and VdGG rehearsals ahead of the upcoming North American tour.

Bit by bit over the last month I’ve been going over the repertoire, reacquainting myself with some fiendishly complicated stuff. It’s been a luxury to have time at my disposal and I’ve attempted to be pretty thorough this time. At the outset of any rehearsal period HB usually sends me a spreadsheet of what we’re proposing to play, with boxes to tick, one to five, against each song as competence gradually returns. Working away by myself I never actually feel that I’ve hit a note-perfect five on any of this stuff and that’s been the case this time as well. It’ll be easier, though, once we’re actually in a room together and muscle memory and the imperative of getting to the end of the song kick in.

I have now got a really authoritative set of crib sheets. Anyone who’s seen me in the past few years, solo or with the band, will know that I come on stage with a whole sheaf of papers to help my aged brain stay on track. In solo concerts that’s often because there are simply so many songs on the available list that I’m in great need of memory jolt for the ones chosen on any given night, especially those which are newest in the repertoire. In a VdGG set there’s so much going on (on stage and in my hands and head) that I need the security blanket of an authoritative lyric and music set close to hand.

I’ve been accumulating different sheets as the tours have gone by, sometimes with conflicting information and scrabbled amendments. The sheets have usually contained full sets of lyrics as well, which is not necessarily the most helpful of things. It takes up a lot of space for one thing, so that some songs have stretched over three or more sheets of paper. As well as that, it can be hard to grasp in a moment of panic (which would be when I’d go to the sheet of course) where I should be looking on the page. So I’ve taken the opportunity to write down only key words and phrases and have also, diligently, I hope, distilled the musical information down to the essential. I hope this is going to work!

Of course I don’t read or write music, so the musical clues are often arcane and in my own secret language. Well, not so secret within the band, I suppose: our cue sheets are littered with such instructions as pianopianoFortyfour, Beastroutefour, two times, one and a half, one times one and so on. These are the locks around which we attempt to navigate and we’ve got to be clear about what we mean….

Well, that’s the kind of thing we’ll be engaged in for the next few days; hoping that our respective notes and memories still marry up. And then, of course, trying to kick in the muscle memory to actually play the things. Fun, but hard work; actually playing a set is much less arduous, if only because whatever mistakes you make (hands up!) you’re going to plough on, somehow, to the end regardless. But if we get close by the end of this stint we’ll be happy, -ish. In any event this part of the process involves only the three of us, so any shameful meltdowns of mental or physical capacity will be kept – and forgiven – in house. Oh, there’ll definitely be some of those!

It’s a particularly long run-in to these nine shows this time. Last week we (band and crew) had our appointment at Grosvenor Square to have our US visas ratified. Always something of a stressful moment as nothing is certain until that formality’s been cleared. There was then the slightly nervous wait for the passports to show up at our respective homes; they came speedily this time, happily. Now our rehearsals and then all the gear gets picked up from us the week after next. We’ll hope (!) to see it again in Bethlehem PA where we’ll have a final rehearsal (in a pretty lagged state, doubtless) the day before the Nearfest performance. And then we’ll be on our way and doubtless everything will go past in a blur for the next fortnight.

Very exciting: short, intense bursts of activity, that’s the modern VdGG way and we still seem to be thriving on it.

Brain frazzle ahoy and incoming….