The man who gave you
‘THUD, THWACK AND TWANG’
tells his tales of a musical trip to The Gulf.
BAGGAGE, BEER AND BAHRAIN
“Fancy a trip to Bahrain to do a few gigs?” asked a promoter pal of mine from Scotland. “Sure do – anywhere with a three pin plug, that’s always been my manifesto”.
The hastily organized trip was carried out via 17 emails and several visits to the travel agent. There was indeed a last minute panic due to the weight restrictions on KLM City Hopper flights but that was sorted by a visit to the weigh house in Newcastle’s Grainger Market.
Fully packed with guitars, pedals, leads, CD’s and less stage clothes than Christine Aguilera we weighed in just under the 20kg allowance. A minor miracle considering an acoustic guitar in its hard case is 7.8kg and two boxes of CDs 5.4kg. Owing to the other commitments of my regular comrades Michael Bailey and Rachael Rhoades, I was accompanied by Phil Armstrong, who would handle electric guitar and mandolin duties.
A few days before we departed we had recorded our rehearsals and it was sounding good stripped down. So we put together a 10 song CD live in the studio on CDR with a sleeve and a poster to sell at the venue, we called this DNA. [limited edition of 250 CDRs, RG]
We traveled from Newcastle to Amsterdam and then on to Bahrain a small island in the Gulf. In Immigration we were greeted by an Arab by the name of Mubarreq, who turned out to be a driver for a sheik. We handed over our passports and headed for customs. This man walked so fast he soon had me trailing 10 yards behind him and Phil another 10. We reckoned he had a unicycle concealed beneath his long white robes. He knew his stuff and we were whisked through immigration and customs. It didn’t go un-noticed that money changed hands and we were both very impressed by this blatant corruption, however it came to pass that he was just paying for our visa! The guitars and bags were waiting by the carousel and we got in his car - but not until after I’d done the Englishman abroad bit and got in the driver’s side.
We headed for The Carlton Hotel at a place called Adliya, checked in, had a quick look at our sizable rooms and of course headed to the bar for ice cold Grolsch. We were then amazingly tracked down by the venue manager Sujith who drove us to the gig, which was in fact only 200 yards away. It was close to midnight and things were just winding down. It was a spacious purpose built venue with a jazz music theme, called Upstairs Downstairs. It had a small corner stage, a balcony for diners and a wonderful glass roof. We checked out the very nice Mackie house PA and Sennheiser microphones etc and were treated to a few more beers before retiring.
Saturday morning we had a full English breakfast at the venue and a bit of a sound check. The first of our 3 consecutive nights was the Saturday. Tickets were limited to 80 and we’d done 76 so that was good. I opened with a couple of solo songs ‘Pretty Useless’ and ‘Cybercafe’ and then introduced Phil on Mandolin we played several songs from my Troubadour Territory album and then a few new songs with Phil on electric guitar. One of the new songs ‘Tremble’ went down particularly well after a lengthy exhibition of guitar pyrotechnics from Mr. Armstrong. Solo again, I played one of my favourite Alan Hull tracks ‘Winter Song’ and followed it with ‘Lady Eleanor’. It was at this point that we realized about one third of the room were from the North East of England and most of them working in the ship repair industry on the island. Closing our first set with ‘Mandolin Moon’ to good applause the gig was going very well. The second set was well received and after 2 encores we set about meeting a few folk and selling some CDs. Stan Bontoft, the main man at the venue and his partner George handled this and we sold 17, which I thought was pretty good going out of an audience of 76.
The following day we spent some time in the lyrically ironic Cyber Cafe sending emails and stuff to our loved ones back home. As if being in a Cyber Café in Bahrain wasn’t confusing enough we had to deal with an Arabic keyboard which typed backwards and the fact that what looks like a 7 in Arabic is in fact a 6 and what looks like 0 is in fact a 5. Heinz 06 varieties, James Bond secret agent 556 jokes etc. We were then driven to the capital, Manama on a tour of music shops where we had a good browse around and discovered a local acoustic instrument called an Oud, which was fretless with five paired strings, the top two nylon. Some of these instruments were electric and fitted with one volume control. We soon gave up on this particular avenue of musical adventure and went to the gig for beer and lunch. The restaurant at Upstairs Downstairs was excellent and the service from the staff was friendly and generous.
The second night’s gig was only half full but still had a good atmosphere playing 4 encores but sadly the CD sales wasn't as big as the night before. On the third day I had to do a radio interview from my bed at 7.30 in the morning (very John and Yoko) with ‘Krazy Kev’ the local Kenny Everett styled DJ. Who had me singing an acapella version of Fog On The Tyne down the phone line. Should have had a video camera really.
Seeing as we were up at an early hour we made our way to the village shops for coffee ‘alfresco’. Although it is winter there, it’s still 68 degrees and t-shirt weather in Britain. Later we went off souvenir hunting and bartering with the local traders who instantly recognized the Geordie twang and proceeded to name nearly the whole of the Newcastle United squad - a very impressive sales pitch. Phil bought 2 scorpions set in amber, which I believe were paperweights and possibly illegal! I bought a rusty old Aladdin styled lamp that was a bit big for my luggage bag, so I had to stuff it with my used underwear and socks for the trip home. We were also driven to the local recording studios to have a look around. It’s here we met an English recording engineer called ‘Geggie’ who owned the facility. Nice guy, great studio, good crack – rotten coffee.
The third gig was much the same attendance as the second except we had to leave directly after the gig to catch our return flight home and having one more pint with the locals was far more important than selling CDs. So it’s goodbyes and Sujith drives us off to the airport.
Upstairs Downstairs is an established restaurant and Jazz venue and its first venture into singer-songwriter territory was well received. We made the Gulf Daily News, Bahrain Confidential magazine and a few others published post gigs. We received 22 radio adverts and a radio interview (bizarre experience that it was) and met some really good, kind folk.
The gigs are continuing monthly with Jim Diamond and Snake Davies (Blue Shoes), Benny Gallagher from Gallagher and Lyle / McGuiness-Flint and the Two Timers are also scheduled to appear. So thank you Upstairs Downstairs for a very pleasurable experience with hospitality second to none.
Hopefully I will return next year with Michael and Rachael in the acoustic trio and a new studio album under my belt.