Episode 31. Nightmare in Europe Pt 3
Girlschool European Tour 1986
Band - Kim, Denise, Gil, Cris
Roadies – Steve Pritchard (d) Me (g)
Tour Manager/Driver – Bob Collins
Nazareth – Dan McCafferty, Manny Charlton, Pete Agnew, Darrell Sweet
Excerpts from my diary Pt 3 – Italy, France
(2022 annotations in italics)
10th December – Bassano, Italy
The only thing I knew about Bassano before we arrived was that it had an old wooden bridge dating back hundreds of years. We saw it while searching for the gig but we never had the opportunity to walk across it. The gig was an odd one. The venue was called La Rosa and our promoter for the night proudly informed us that Girlschool were the first band to play the venue. That promoter, it must be said went out of his way to please us but we were somewhat wary of him. A small man, wrinkled olive skin, a moda trilby hat and an assistant the size of an American fridge. The promoter asked if the rider was ok, we all said yes except Denise who said the Jack Daniels was missing. A casual look and nod from the promoter to the fridge who promptly disappeared and returned less than minute later with a bottle. After the sound-check, we were taken to the hotel which at first glance looked a bit worrying as construction was still going on. Once inside though, we marvelled at the marble floor and ornate reception. An enormous chandelier hanging from the ceiling; several stunningly beautiful Italian women working the reception and concierge, excess all areas and it was indeed excess as we seemed to be the only guests. Putting all the clues together, we figured out what the gig was all about and that proved to be the case later when during the show, the audience were impeccably behaved, most unusual for a gig in Italy. Two support bands tonight they being Danger Zone and Skanners (both still together and playing).
Appearances can be deceptive. Our hotel looked like it need another year of construction but inside was like stepping into a wedding cake.
11th December – San Vittori, Italy
San Vittori is a small suburb of Cesena, itself a town of less than 100,000. The Vidia Club is located in San Vittori in the middle of a housing estate. Good old Bob had been there before so thankfully we didn’t spend hours driving around trying to find it. A very different gig to last night, the first thing I noticed was that the stage wobbled rather alarmingly and looking underneath I saw it was a ramshackle of old bits of timber, beer crates and the odd rat or two. I decided not to mention the rats to the girls. Danger Zone and Skanners arrived as we were setting up, just in time to hear me yelp as I got an electric shock of Gil’s vocal mic. Bad cable, changed and seemed to be ok. A bum gig though, the shocks came back towards the end so Gil couldn’t sing and the stage wobble got worse. The crowd got aggressive and I noticed one of the bouncers leaving. After the last song, we piled into the dressing room, the last one in being Kim who screamed she had just seen a rat run across the stage. She asked me how long they had played ‘One hour and two minutes’ I said. ‘Right then, then, that’s our contract, no encore’ and a vote was taken to get the hell out as quickly as possible. Steve and I go back on stage to break down the gear and someone lets off a foam fire extinguisher at us. The guitars are safe but the drums, amps and cabs get hit. Steve and I are trying to see who it is but the houselights stay off. When they do eventually go back on, the stage is a mess and the crowd have dispersed. We clean up as much as possible with a half a dozen towels and think the bouncer knew what was coming. Load out took an extra hour because of the cleaning and then to the hotel to scrub ourselves down and get drunk.
12th December – Bari, Italy
Terrific stage crew at this one, Steve and I hardly had to do any lifting and were plied with grappa as soon as we arrived. The local boys had even cleaned the drum kit for us. There was buzz in the amps which turned out to be a bad earthing system in the club (this was very typical for Italy back in those days) so I ran my own earth wire from the stage power supply to a water pipe just to be safe. Skanners were on the bill again, our last show in Italy and they gave Steve and me a bottle of whiskey each. Good gig, left Italy on a high note.
13th December – Day Off/Travel
A leisurely drive over two days to France via Switzerland so we stopped off in Rome for a few hours as nobody except Bob had been there before. We didn’t arrive until the afternoon so could only squeeze in The Vatican and the Colosseum but both were awe inspiring.
Cris and Kim in the Colosseum
14th December – Day Off/Travel
Out of Italy, into Switzerland and then across Switzerland to the French border via Montreux where we all sang Smoke On The Water. Along the way we saw postcard Swiss chalets on the mountains and I imagined there must be at least a few girls in the area named Heidi. We stopped at a service station and had lunch. I tried Bündnerfleisch for the first time. It was a sensory overload on my tastebuds and was going to have more but then I realised how much I had just paid for it. Before leaving we stocked up on Lindt chocolate, Läckerli and smiled as lots of cows wandered down a hill to greet us, their cowbells randomly clanking. Arriving at the hotel in France around 8pm, we are hungry but Bob tells us he’s got no cash until the banks open tomorrow and so Kim offers to pay for dinner with her credit card and we can all pay her back tomorrow. ‘What a good idea!’ and we head to the hotel restaurant. During dinner, Denise somehow discovers that the tab can be transferred to the bar when we have finished eating and we retire there after stuffing ourselves and order two more bottles of wine. Thereafter, Bob and Steve decided a cognac would be a good nightcap. I decline feeling rather tired and head to bed.
15th December – Besancon, France
I wake up with aches and pains – I may have caught flu. The venue is an old cinema. Easy access, lots of stage crew, decent sound, no problems. Support band is Fallen Angel (no idea what happened to them). I get through the gig downing lots of French medicine from the chemist on the same street as the gig. I have no idea what it actually is but works wonders, especially with a few beers.
16th December – Day Off/Travel
I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t the flu. I slept all morning as we drove to Montpellier, woke up around 2pm feeling great, just before we arrived at the Novotel. We split up for a few hours to go shopping, reconvening at 7pm for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Cris, Kim and Bob have an early night but Denise, Gil, Steve and I fancy a night out and go to the venue we are playing tomorrow to see what it’s like. At the door, I see a familiar face, it’s Jean-Pierre who I remember from touring France with Def Leppard a few years ago. I jog his memory, he invites us in, clears a table and tells us to drink whatever we want – on the house. We start with four large Jack Daniels and continue drinking large Jack Daniels until the club closes at 3am when Jean-Pierre puts us in a taxi and tells the driver to charge it to the club. We like Jean-Pierre a lot. Back at the hotel, the night porter wouldn’t open the gate to let us in so we had to climb over it and then luckily found the front door unlocked. I’m not sure how the next set of events unfolded but Steve and Gil crashed out in mine and Steve’s hotel room which meant I had to crash out in Denise’s room. All fine except Denise was up for fun and kept running up and down the hotel corridor banging on doors and waking people up. I apologised to the night porter twice for the inconvenience but then Denise wanted to re-arrange the hotel room and started by throwing all the food into the corridor. Other guests were out of their rooms wondering what the commotion was, the night porter was back again shouting ‘Gendarmerie! Gendarmerie!’. I tried to placate him in my best French (which actually wasn’t bad back then but is terrible now) as a yogurt flew past my head, splattered behind me and slowly oozed down the monogrammed wallpaper. ‘Je vais nettoyer ça’ I said hoping he would understand. He shouted ‘Gendarmerie!’ again and stormed off as a slice of bread stuck to the wall where the yogurt had landed. I went back into the room to find Denise in incontrollable fits of laughter. Cris and Kim came in, Kim got the giggles while Cris fumed. Around then I passed out on the floor.
17th December – Montpellier, France
Woke up and there was no one there. Decided to go to my room but then couldn’t remember the number. Went down to reception and saw Bob, Steve and Gil in the breakfast room. Bob asked me about last night and I recounted the events as best as I could. ‘Doug’s not going to like this’ he mused as he chomped on his cornflakes. Reception told me my room number was 306, if they new about last night, they didn’t say anything. I showered and changed and went out for a walk. We all met up at the gig, Denise apologised and then laughed. Told her not to worry about it, no apology necessary. Cris wasn’t very happy but was laughing once the sound-check was out of the way and I told her about Denise’s uncanny ability to skim a slice of bread across a room and land it vertically on a yogurt. Jean-Pierre came into the dressing room and apologised as he had no control over the support band who are called California. They a cabaret band who did cover versions of France’s Top 20 which this week happened to include Europe’s The Final Countdown, The Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way and Kim Wilde’s version of You Keep Me Hanging On. Great gig by the girls and as we left, I thanked Jean-Pierre for his hospitality. ‘Reviens bientôt mon ami’ he said and I promised him I would. (Sadly, I haven’t seen him since).
Denise onstage somewhere on this tour
18th December – Orléans, France
The hotel is a dump and Bob complained to the promoter. His name is Bernhard and it’s clear he doesn’t like the English. Bob wants a different hotel and Bernhard gets huffy and says all the other hotels are full but he’ll see what he can do later. Liar. The support band are called Pregnant Virgin and they also clearly don’t like the English. They want me to move all the equipment back three feet, I tell them no. Plenty of room, set up and get on with it which they grumpily do. Much to our surprise, a TV film crew arrives and start setting up. Bob corners Bernhard who says he doesn’t know anything about it – it was arranged by Doug. Liar. Without a contract signed by Doug, Bob won’t let them film the gig and Bernhard gets huffy again. A compromise is reached where they interview the girls but no filming the gig. The show goes well, the audience is happy, Bernhard is nowhere to be seen at the end of the gig and guess what…there’s no news of a different hotel.
19th Rouen, France
The hotel told us we had missed breakfast. This at 7:30am and they wouldn’t change their mind. We go and find Bob and take off for Rouen stopping at a bakery just outside of town so we can grab something to eat. Bob is out for revenge as Bernhard is the promoter again tonight. We arrive at the venue 4:30pm and leave again at 4:40pm after Bob has an argument with Bernhard about last night’s hotel and Bernhard tells us to ‘Fuck off back to England’. Bob phones Doug, Doug phones Bernhard and tells him to come up with cash for the hotel in one hour or indeed Girlschool will fuck off back to England. Fifty-five minutes later, huffy Bernhard hands Bob an envelope, Bob counts it and nods to me and Steve to unload the gear. Now we are running late so no soundcheck but it was a case of get on and hope for the best. As it happens, a thousand people turned up and the girls played a blinder.
Gil in transit
20th December – Douai, France
We did the three-hour drive to Douai via Amiens, another of the cities I’ve wanted to visit for some time. We didn’t have time to stop but we did drive past the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world, twice as big as the Notre-Dame in Paris. I would have loved to have stayed longer and visited the battlefields of the Somme and Jules Verne’s house but it is not to be on this tour; I’ll get back there one day. (I still haven't) After setting the gear up, every mic was live with between 36V – 50V on all of them. Can’t perform like that and the local crew knew nothing about the P.A. so I spent almost six hours trying to fix it to no avail. At 11pm, we had to cancel the show. Kim made the announcement. The fans were disappointed but were calm and left politely.
21st December – Paris, France
It’s the last night of the tour, everyone is in good spirits and looking forward to going home for Christmas. La Locomotive turns out to be literally next door to the famous Moulin Rouge and although the load-in is up and down stairs and across a dance floor, we are having fun and it is not laborious. Good sound-check, 1,000 tickets sold and time for a laugh. Denise goes out to do her introduction to the audience and Steve handcuffs her to the mic stand (real handcuffs, I have no idea where Steve got them) and then jumps on her drum kit and starts playing them. Whilst the girls are looking at him in amazement and Denise is wondering how to get free, I switch guitars using the AB Box and start playing the intro to Nothing To Lose. The audience cheer although they probably have no idea what’s going on. After a couple of minutes, normal service is resumed and they conclude the show. Loads of beer and wine and JD in the dressing room but the tour ends here. The girls are staying on to do a TV show, Bob, Steve and myself head off around midnight for the early ferry from Calais.
For the first time in two months, the bus is silent.