Episode 29. Nightmare in Europe Pt 1
Girlschool European Tour 1986
Band - Kim, Denise, Gil, Cris
Roadies – Steve Pritchard (d) Me (g)
Tour Manager/Driver – Bob Collins
Excerpts from my diary Pt 1 – Scandinavia
(2022 annotations in italics)
11th November - Travel Day
Packed and ready to go, Denise comes over in the morning (I was living at her parent’s house in Clapham) and we order a minicab to go to Kim’s at 2:30pm. No sooner had we hung up, Gill from Greybray phoned (Girlschool’s management) and said the bus will be an hour late – good start eh? We go to Kim’s anyway and when the bus does arrive, Steve and I load the gear into a trailer that is going to be pulled behind the bus. It’s actually a van, a rather beat up old thing painted in an ugly brown and once loaded, Bob does a test drive and says it feels ok; Steve has concerns and thinks the wheels look a bit iffy when the bus turns a corner. Nevertheless, we pile on the bus and set off for Harwich to catch the ferry to Holland. From there we have a day of travelling through Germany and into Denmark where we will catch another ferry to Sweden. Of course, the bus being late to start with means we missed our planned 6pm ferry and had to wait for the 10pm one so we sat on the bus for four hours without food or alcohol, bored stupid. That all changed at 10:05pm when we had set sail and with 11 hours to kill, we all opt for the cabaret lounge which on these ferries are usually much more fun than the disco. We all get drunk, Denise gives a rousing version of ‘New York, New York’ despite the band performing another song and we find Gil wandering around the deck outside about 2am trying to find a taxi. I crash at 4am with the smug feeling that although things have gone wrong on the first day, that’s normal and from now on it should be plain sailing.
12th November - Travel Day
Flat tyre in Denmark.
13th November - Travel Day
Day 3 and still on the way to the first gig. We took the ferry from Helsingør in Demark to Helsingborg in Sweden, just a twenty minutes hop and as it was quite windy outside, the captain advised us not to go out on deck. Steve and I immediately grinned at each other and headed for door and were greeted with a shocking icy blast as we stepped outside. We stayed out there long enough to take a photo and read the thermometer which said -22C. Having learnt our lesson way back in Harwich, the bus is now well stocked with crisps, biscuits, Elephant beer, wine and Jack Daniels so the seven-hour drive from Helsingborg to Stockholm passed quickly and from there we took yet another ferry to Turku in Finland, this one departing at 8pm, also taking eleven hours. When we are not in bunks on the bus, sleeping arrangements are Kim and Cris in one room, Gil and Denise in another and Steve and I in a third. Bob will sleep on the bus most of the time as he did tonight and he kindly arranged for someone to wake us when we arrive tomorrow morning.
Steve in -22C
14th November – Kajanni, Finland
Steve and I are woken up at 7am by a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Herman Goering in both looks and attitude. We had missed breakfast – as had the others - and then had to grumpily walk off the ferry as Bob had already been ordered by the gestapo to drive the bus off. I slept for another three hours once we got underway and awoke to find us driving on roads cut through forests of spruce, birch and pine trees, everywhere blanketed with snow. As we made our way north, we spent a half an hour or so moose-spotting and then the snow came down in giant flakes that the windscreen wipers struggled to clear. We arrived in Kajanni, at 5pm but as we were not due onstage until…well actually nobody knew but they told us to load-in any time after 6pm, we checked into the hotel and had our first decent shower for four days. The venue was called the Huvipuisto and away from the town centre, down a remote road, set amongst a stunning scenery of lakes and fjords which we admired for five minutes and then had a snowball fight. We discovered the reason why nobody could tell us what time the gig started was because the promoter wanted 75% of his ticket sales to arrive before the show started and as nobody who bought tickets knew what time it started; they would just arrive when they felt like it. These things are apparently quite normal and logical in Finland (and Spain as I had discovered several years before) as is playing the intro tape and then having the promoter rushing into the dressing room waving his arms around and exclaiming ‘Ei vielä!’ which we took to mean ‘No, not yet!’ He did that twice. When I gave the cue to start the tape a third time, the girls were in a ‘Fuck him’ mood and were onstage playing before any arm waving could be done. Other than that, the gig went well.
15th November – Kaavi, Finland
It was heaven to sleep in a bed that wasn’t trundling along a road. That however was the highlight of the day. The gig looked like an old aircraft hangar with an arched roof and had an uncontrollable sound that bounced around so much that Bob commented even sport would sound bad in there. The show itself wasn’t much better as both Kim and Cris broke two strings each and for reasons known only unto himself, some bloke outside after the show when we were loading the gear out urged on by his mates decided he wanted to fight the Girlschool road crew. We ignored his taunts until the gear was locked in the trailer and then Steve, without saying a word, turned and flattened him with one punch. He wasn’t out cold but he must have felt cold lying there in two feet of snow wondering what had hit him as we boarded the bus and quietly drove away. (Years later when I mentioned it to Steve, he couldn’t recall the incident).
16th November – Travel
We were happy to see the back of Kaavi and an early start put us in Helsinki by 3pm. Rest, a good meal and a few beers and we went to a club.
17th November – Helsinki, Finland
Hangover. Fortunately, I have time to recover as we don’t have to be at the venue, the Tavastia Klubi, until 4pm. As it turns out, I’m not the only one with a hangover, Bob in fact being the only person without one. When we do get to the Tavista, I’m feeling much better and this place looks like a proper gig apart the fifty old age pensioners slowly waltzing around the floor to some slow Finnish music. Monday afternoon dance lessons apparently but they soon packed up and left so we could lug the gear in. Good gig, packed house, loads of autograph hunters and a journalist who asked to travel with us to Norway. The girls agreed but Bob, Steve and I eventually had to throw him off the bus about about halfway to Turku as he had become drunk and abusive.
This was either Kaavi or Helsinki, a few minutes before going onstage.
18th November – Travel
We caught the early ferry and had breakfast. None of us were in the mood for everyone else’s company so we split up and I went back to bed. Around midday I was up again and explored the vessel. Pinball and video games passed an hour and then Gil appeared and suggested we eat. Good idea and the steak enchiladas were just what I needed. We docked an hour later, checked through Swedish customs and drove a few hours before pulling in to a Service Station where we ate and re-stocked the bus. Most people then opted for an early night but Denise and I opened bottle of JD and spent the next couple of hours talking about time travel, UFOs, the Book of Ezekiel and all things such.
19th November – Oslo, Norway
I turned Gil’s amp on today at the soundcheck and there was a horrible intermittent crackle. Swapped it for the spare, switched it on and that went ‘Boomf!’. Opened up the first one and discovered a cracked soldering joint on a valve base so I re-soldered it and that seemed to fix it. Cris’ amp went next, the volume control didn’t work. Swapped it for the spare amp which was fine, opened up the first one and replaced the volume control – fixed so I swapped the amps over again. I opened up Gil’s spare and condensation had built up over one of the valve bases which shorted everything out. Removed the valves, borrowed a hair-dryer and dried it out and then put a new set of valves in. I don’t have the equipment to re-bias the amp but it will do until we can get somewhere that can do it for me. (This would end up being at Marshall’s back in England after the tour). It may be that the trailer is acting like a big fridge and the flight cases are holding the damp air so just as a precaution I bought a hair-dryer and will run it through the amps for a couple of minutes for the rest of the Scandinavian gigs.
20th November – Larvik, Norway
An hour and a half drive south from Oslo is the town of Larvik which in its tourist flyer boasts has ‘the world's northernmost beech tree forest.’ It has a population of about 40,000 people and fourteen of those came to the gig tonight. I can’t say as I blame the other 39,000+ for staying home as it was -3C in the afternoon and we didn’t go on until 10pm.
21st November – Travel
We had a day and half to get to Trondheim which Bob said we can easily do in ten hours. One hour into the drive, a stone hit the bus and shattered the left side windscreen. Our promoter for the Norwegian shows is a man named Steiner and he’s fortunately travelling with us so while Bob gets us safely to a service station and makes some calls to the UK to have a replacement windscreen flown out, Steiner works out that if we get back to Oslo, we can catch the 10:30pm overnight train to Trondheim. We’ll just take the guitars and he’ll rent a backline for us there which all sounds like fun until he says, Bob, Steve and I have to stay behind as trains are expensive and the attendance last night was less than he expected. Big mistake. Bob was about to insist that we go but he was shoved out the way by four very irate women who told Steiner that either Steve and I go or he should cancel the gig - Steiner agreed very quickly to purchase two extra tickets and Bob would stay with the bus, pick-up the replacement windscreen from the airport and we would come back to Oslo by train the morning after the gig to continue the tour. As I write, it’s just gone midnight and I am straining my eyes looking out of the train window into the dark to try and see the world's northernmost beech tree forest.
Bob, Bob’s bus and the trailer/van we towed.
22nd November – Trondheim
We are all pleasantly awoken by a gentle tap on the door and a lovely Norwegian hostess who serves us Danish pastries and coffee. An hour later and we were in Trondheim. We take two taxis to the hotel and they inform us that breakfast is still being served and complimentary. It was a smorgasbord of Norwegian delights and we stuffed ourselves silly. After a couple of hours rest, Steve and I went to the gig to check out the hire gear. Gil’s stack is good, a Trace Elliot GP11 with two JBL cabs, Kim will have a 50W Marshall head as opposed to her usual 100W and Cris will be using two 100W Marshall heads into two 4x12’s or more accurately, a 4 x12 and a 3 x 12 as one of the speakers is missing. Steve’s just happy to see the drum kit isn’t green (Denise hates green drumkits for reasons she’s never explained) and we set everything up even though the soundcheck isn’t for a few hours. The gig passed without incident, a good crowd and we were back at the hotel just after midnight. I was halfway through the minibar when Kim knocked on the door and asked for a couple of cigarettes. It struck me as odd at the time as she doesn’t smoke but I didn’t question it and handed a packet over. Returning to the minibar, I glanced out the window and there they were…the Northern Lights! I had read about them, even glimpsed them before years ago but not like this. Great curtains of shades of green wafting through the night sky as if they were giant bedsheets on a washing line in a gentle breeze. I watched in awe for an hour as they subtly colour changed from chartreuse and lime to mint and emerald and then teasingly, adding blues and purples for a few moments which were then folded back into the greens and just as they all seemed to fade into the night, returned for encore after encore. Mother nature at her finest.
23rd November – Travel
Steiner had told us the lobby call was 7:30am. Steve and I got there at 8am and Steiner was in a bad mood because we were late and the train was at 8:40am. We both told him to fuck off as the train station was only five minutes in a taxi. We boarded the train without him as he was staying on in Trondheim and we all had an enjoyable ride back to Oslo except Kim who loses a cap on her tooth. She managed to place it back on but it’s sore and may not last the tour. Bob met us at the station. The windscreen hadn’t been replaced but it was coming on the 5:30pm flight so we drove to the airport and Bob went into collect it. He returned an hour later empty-handed; it never got on the plane so we found a hardware shop, bought some strong flexible plastic and with a roll of gaffer tape patched the broken side up as best as possible. Next stop, Germany.