Caribbean - Jan 2017

Chris: 30th Jan 2017 – 7:53am and we’re waiting outside Dan’s Flat in SW London for a taxi that is over 20 mins late. When it finally arrives the driver asks us not to complain to the firm as it’s his first day working for them. Call me cynical but I expect that’s what he says every time he is late. Nevertheless, we get to Gatwick on time and he lives to drive another day. Late, no doubt.

Flying with instruments is fun. And when I say ‘fun’, I mean ‘awful’. Airlines have about as much care for guitars as Donald Trump has for premeditated speech #Ouch #Political #WontHappenAgain. Our flight cases are now covered in more ‘FRAGILE’ stickers than Donald Trump’s emotional baggage. #OMG #CanHeSayThat?!

After check-in, we have to take the guitars to the ‘Oversized Baggage’ chute, which bears numerous similarities to a crematorium in both design and destruction. The guitars go along a conveyor belt and down a chute before landing firmly in the lap of the gods. A local minister utters an excerpt from Proverbs verses 3:23-24, we light a candle, join hands and say a prayer for the recently departed.

At the gate, I realise I have left my book at home (‘I Am Brian Wilson’ by… I forget who). Luckily there’s a WH Smith’s where I find a copy of a magazine dedicated to the legendary Leonard Cohen – definitely enough reading to keep me going for the week. On board, Dan poses for a photo with his doppelganger.

During the flight I watch Bridget Jones’s Baby (which is a film, not a child). Judge me all you like - I thought it was pretty good. I also watched David Bowie – The Last Five Years. Shamefully, I’ve not really got around to much of Bowie’s music yet but I really enjoyed the documentary.

Eight hours later and we arrive at our stopover destination – Antigua.

Antigua airport is like an exotic bus station. British Airways and Virgin both operate from there and do a pretty good job of running to schedule. Liat (‘The Caribbean Airline’) on the other hand…  pffft. Liat are infamous for lateness, losing luggage, cancelling flights and for the long, protracted dismantling of emotional well-being.

Having already spent a significant portion of Christmas Eve in Antigua airport, we are naturally apprehensive upon arrival. Sure enough, the onward flight to St Kitts is CANCELLED.

Here’s a list of what you can do when you have 4 hours to kill in Antigua Airport.

·      Nothing.

When we finally board a later flight, one of the ground crew is violently hammering something in one of the engines. This is, obviously, hugely encouraging.

All that said, we (and the guitars) arrive only slightly more aged than when we first departed. A nice man drives us to the Sugar Bay Club Hotel. The rooms are nice. In the morning we realize that the view is also nice. Nice.

Later, we head to the seaport to join the ship. The average Caribbean Customs Office looks like this:

Inviting. Inside, a woman asks your name, makes a brass-rubbing of your passport and that’s it – you’re in!

We’ve been so, so lucky to see most of the Caribbean Islands over the past few months. It’s completely bizarre to wake up in these incredible places and the weirdest thing is that it’s almost become the norm. The stamps in our passports have become a chronicle of the craziness.

We boarded P&O’s Azura in the port of St Kitts. All these ships are amazing, I’d recommend to anyone trying it once if you can. Over the years, in various guises, we have played in most of the main UK theatres. Without doubt, the theatres we play in at sea are as well (or better) equipped than their land equivalents. It’s a real joy to plug in and play in these venues.

We perform two different sets over two nights. Our first set is made up of the biggest hits of the 50s. Our second – called ‘The American Invasion’ – is a collection of tunes that heavily influenced the British Invasion of the 1960s; we’re talking Not Fade Away, That’s All Right, Blue Suede Shoes, etc.

On our first day on board we all got royally hoodwinked by the sun. It spent most of the afternoon behind a fine layer of cloud and pretended it wasn’t burning us. Whilst getting dressed for that evening’s show, the level of solar-hoodwinkery was revealed. Greg’s legs were the colour of a fire extinguisher that had caught fire and my face looked like a red panda that had caught fire.

Despite that, the shows were really great – thanks, in no small part, to a very responsive crowd.

The following day, we docked in Antigua. Ollie and I set out to visit the English Harbour distillery (after a highly intoxicating visit to the Mount Gay distillery in December) only to find it was closed to the public that day. Not discouraged, we asked the cab driver to take us somewhere we might be able to sample some local rum. We ended up in a bar on a beach in St John’s where we did an excellent job of supporting local produce.

The beach was quiet and beautiful and hot. I swam in shorts and a t-shirt so as not to aggravate the previous day’s sautéing. I read a large chunk of my Leonard Cohen magazine. No shows that evening. Bliss.

The following day we performed The American Invasion. Again, a really great crowd. We met so many lovely people after the show. The most common thing people tell us is that we “took them back to their youth” – which is a really nice thing to be told and one that we never tire of hearing. 

Being on a ship is like being in a magic hotel. Each night you draw the curtains, the next morning you open them to reveal somewhere new. The next somewhere was Barbados.

When I was young, Barbados was this mythical place that one of my friend’s parents had apparently once been to. To this day, the name Barbados sounds so exotic to me. I have to frequently pinch myself (on a non-burnt bit) that I’m actually there.

Barbados was our final port of call. It was now February 3rd.

Buddy Holly has had a huge impact on all of us. Ollie, Dan and I first met on the UK tour of Buddy way back in 2008 (Ollie played Buddy with Dan and I as The Crickets). Greg, too, is a massive BH fan and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the songs.

February 3rd is, of course, the day in 1959 that Buddy, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper lost their lives in a plane crash over Iowa. Even after all these years, Buddy is one of the greatest losses to popular music. He was true pioneer in musicality, songwriting and production.

We always like to commemorate the date with a video so we took the guitars down to Brandons Beach in Bridgetown to record a live version of ‘Blue Days, Black Nights’.

On arriving at the beach, our souls sank upon the discovery that the batteries in Greg’s amp had died. However, total biblical angelic rescue came in the form of two awesome passing strangers, Michelle and her daughter Destiny, who offered to drive Ollie and I ten minutes to the local petrol station and back. Two of the sweetest people I have ever met (although Destiny was bunking Phys. Ed to be at the beach and we definitely didn’t applaud her for such a flagrant disregard for the educational system).

Eight Double-A’s later, Ollie, Greg and Dan played whilst I pointed a camera. It turned out well but the operation in no way aided my sunburn recovery. See what you think!

Ollie – Vocals/Guitar
Greg – Lead guitar
Dan – Legs
Chris – Camera
Michelle & Destiny – Day Saving

I have to apply some after-sun now. I’ll pass you over to Greg.