History is starting to repeat itself. The venues are filled to over capacity, the temperature indoors is reaching near sauna level, and women are starting to throw their underwear on stage again. It reminds me of Ireland in the 1980's. The build up to our Saturday gig in Prague had suggested it would be a good one, but it exceeded all expectations. After a hot, sunny day in the city it was likely that the audience at Lucerna would be on good form, but their decibel level was off the chart. For everyone the gig ended too soon, not because it was short but because everyone was having such a good time that it seemed a shame to bring it to a close. Prague doesn't sleep and it seems unlikely that I will either, mainly because I shall be up in three hours to catch the red eye flight home. But the excitement of the last three days does not wear off quickly, so I shall just enjoy the happy memories I have made here in Slovakia and The Czech Republic and let KLM take me home in my soporific state. On Friday I shall board Malaysian Airlines for a 12-day break in Australia, my first holiday with Roz for 6 years. On my return I have an extended break before resuming in Ireland around 20th May, before the start of festival season.
This year has got off to a very strong start, and it shows no sign of easing up. Now we are already starting to plan for 2018, and it is shaping up to be another very good year. Thank you to all our fans for making it so good, and we'll see you soon, wherever you may be.
What a fantastic reaction from a huge crowd. I'm talking, of course, about our sellout show at Brno's Sono Centrum. This venue has only been running for three years and Smokie have played it twice in that time. Its golf ball dome gives it a unique and very futuristic look, and one that attracts attention. Inside, the three tiers are constructed for excellent acoustics, giving the audience a crystal clear sound. The smiles on peoples' faces indicated that they were hearing every word and every note and enjoying the songs as they were meant to be heard. Our first appearance this year in The Czech Republic was an enormous success and, if this is a sign of how things will be for us in this country, we are in for a great time. Prague, here we come!
Smokie's return to Slovakia's capital was an unqualified success as a huge crowd filled the stylish Hant Arena. Once the audience had unanimously agreed to rise to their feet it was like a tsunami of individuals as they surged forward to join the party. Performing the set that was so popular on our UK tour, we took the audience through a powerful summary of our 42 years on the road. Nostalgia plays a large part, even causing some tears as people recall certain events from many years ago, but happiness and joy are mostly the reaction that I observe. Once we said our final farewells to the audience we were on the road to Brno to be in place for tonight's show here at the familiar Sono Centrum. For my part I shall be taking another good look around this beautiful city before preparing for another night of fun in an intimate environment.
A new road is under construction that will speed up the journey to Bergen but, until that happens, a ferry is the best option. Because ferries are standard transport for many Norwegians we tend to meet some of the people who are on their way to our concert. Inevitably, there are autographs, photos and a bit of friendly banter. As I observed yesterday, the pace is slower around water which means that people have more time for each other. With such a rich history in Norway we have a lot to talk about, and people are more than happy to share their experiences and tales of how they (the younger generation usually) got to know about Smokie. It was a younger crowd that attended Hordabohallen in Bovagen last night, and they were well rehearsed in their favourite songs. Our show turned a quiet rural location into a full on rock venue, and one that will be worth considering again in the future. It was a great ending to this three-day mini Norwegian tour that has left us with some very happy memories. As chance would have it, we now break for a couple of weeks before resuming in Slovakia and The Czech Republic. My own plans involve family and a trip to Edinburgh to visit one of the best sushi restaurants. Just for a change I shall not be flying, but taking the train that became so familiar to me on the recent UK tour.
There are few places more idyllic than Haugesund. Even the prospect of flying to the west coast to enjoy warmer temperatures than Oslo was highly appealing. Activity around water is always at a gentle and relaxing pace, so it seemed natural to slow down to match the environment. Sunny skies helped to complete the picture, along with another sellout show, this time at Festiviteten. Haugesund is not a big town, so everywhere is within easy walking distance. I feel like I have done everything in slow motion today except, of course, the concert that progressed at its usual enthusiastic pace, rattling the memories of our eager audience and encouraging the recall of all manner of events associated nostalgically with our melodies. Some people were celebrating birthdays, some wedding anniversaries and some the birth of their children (even named Alice) and in this respect they are highly representative of our audiences around the world who have similar stories of family life that has retained a connection to our music. This 2017 world party is turning into a huge gathering of fans who want to see the band and make us promise that we won't retire and stop performing our music. How can we refuse when so many good people make this simple request? As it happens, nothing was further from my mind because I am having the most fun ever in this wonderful Smokie career. If all goes according to my plan there should be many years left in the band yet, so let's keep on doing what we do and take that naughty 'r' word right out of our dictionary.
Chat Noir is a small theatre, with a French name, in the heart of Oslo. Its intimacy is further expanded by the double seats that are part of the decor. It would be hard not to feel somehow connected to your neighbour when your rear ends are occupying the same chair. It all adds to the charm of this surprising venue on a day when we are all thinking about the female of the species, i.e. International Women's Day. Of course, any Smokie gig will mostly contain a majority of women, so the concept doesn't need emphasising too much in our presence. We are just happy to see an audience enjoying themselves, and that's what happened last night. Aker Brygge may well have been buzzing with the activity of those who feel that the meteorological Spring is cause enough to come out of hiding, but Chat Noir was full of people who were ready for a good time and willing to join the party. Our first Norwegian gig of the year was an unparalleled success and makes way for another two shows in this country this week, but not before we take the short trip to Haugesund for a night of leisure.
There was an old man in a tree
Who was terribly bored by a bee
When they asked "Does it buzz?"
He replied "Yes, it does
But at least there'll be honey for tea"
Sorry, but I just couldn't resist doing that because, after all, I am in Limerick (or Lime Rick, as Mike called it last night).
Also, my apologies to the the late Edward Lear whose verse I played with by changing the ending. Being in Ireland is enough to cause me to wax lyrical, and what better a place to squeeze out a few lines than here in County Limerick? Our audience were similarly in characteristic lyrical mode last night as we took them down memory lane. A great night ended in the bar at Kilmurry Lodge Hotel where we reminisced about all the amusing incidents over the last twenty nine years while partaking, of course, in pints of the black stuff. As usual I needed to be alert again during the hours of darkness to start my trip home to The Highlands, so sleep beckoned briefly before I strode into a darkened restaurant to start the Irish breakfast experience. Talking of experiences, I am on Irish Rail for the first time, thereby avoiding the early morning traffic of the notorious M50.
Partying with the Irish people means having the best party in the world because they more or less invented the word, along with other words that have become an integral part of Alice's story.
I now return home for a most unusual weekend before resuming my travels to Oslo on the day of my twenty ninth Smokie anniversary. It's all happening here, so keep an eye on this blog, on Twitter and on the Smokie Face Book page to keep up-to-date with what's happening in our crazy world.
I feel that I might be repeating myself a little when I say "that's the best reaction we've ever had", but here I go again - at Moscow's Crocus City Hall we enjoyed "the best reaction we have ever had" at this great venue. Not only that, we have also played here every year for the last five years, and next year's appearance is already in the planning. It may be a long way to go for a gig (my journey today takes 19 hours to get me home) but it is entirely worth the trip. Another thing about our trips to Russia is that we have to visit the Russian Visa Agency in London to have our biometric fingerprints taken, and this gives me an annual opportunity to have a night out in the big city and catch a show or a movie whilst amongst the bright lights. So it's not just the show itself but also the preparation that is somehow an enjoyable part of the whole process. Yesterday Moscow was alive with celebrations and demonstrations. It felt like the whole population were on the streets on Sunday morning and there were kiosks, sideshows, fancy dressings, ice sculptures, Christmas trees and the usual tourist attractions in the vicinity of Red Square, ahead of Easter celebrations. There have been many changes in the former Soviet Union since our first appearance here in 1991, and our Russian audience's reaction is now far more similar to that which we encounter in Western Europe. As I leave Moscow on this Monday morning even the chilly conditions have warmed to drizzly rain, in line with the more temperate weather that we experience in the UK. Spring is just around the corner and the Winter coat will make way for the Spring jacket, and the mountain tops will change from white to green. But one thing never changes, and that is Smokie's near constant touring schedule that takes us round the world year in and year out. Long may it continue.
What? A home town gig? Amazing! This was a valuable opportunity to sleep in my own bed after a gig, for a change. But sleep was never a priority and, as I write this, I can say I've had little more than two hours' sleep after the tremendously successful Ironworks show last night. The venue was packed to capacity and the audience were on top form. Even Storm Doris missed us so that we could commute easily from Aberdeen to Inverness without arriving looking like our hair was styled by Boris Johnson's hairdresser. All in all it was the perfect end to a memorable UK tour. The fun continued last night as we shifted from The Ironworks to The Pentahotel, where several of the band and the audience were keeping the mirth and merriment going in the ample bar area. The last music notes may have faded but the conversations about the gig will likely go on for weeks. Suffice to say that we will be back to serve up some more Smokie music to our loyal fans in the lovely Highlands that I call home. Thank you to everyone who has made our UK Tour such a pleasure. Now we continue the international leg of the never ending tour with a trip to Moscow.
What a beautiful venue is the lovely Tivoli Theatre in Aberdeen. It's three-tiered seating gives everyone in the theatre a good view, and what works for them also works for us onstage. The atmosphere was highly charged as our audience stayed with us every step of the way through our four-decade journey through our musical career. An eleven year absence from Aberdeen is just far too long and it's time to put that right and start planning our future returns to Aberdeen and its beautiful Tivoli Theatre with its eager crowd. The two Scottish dates on this UK Tour are sold out and are most likely to remind us just how important a part our music has played in the lives of many Scots. With so much success behind us in our home territory it's time to take stock of the situation and make regular visits to the people that have kept us in their hearts for all these years. I believe that many of our audience will have kept the party going long after the final chord was struck onstage because they, like us, were probably still on a high after what turned out to be a very special night in this great city.
On 12th January this year I first learnt that our show in Letterkenny was sold out. As I entered The Clanree Hotel yesterday afternoon I was greeted by staff who commented that we should have played here for two nights. Even though that was not possible on this occasion it is fair to say that we could return here again soon to appear for those who were unable to get tickets on this occasion, as well as to be here for those who simply want to have another night with Smokie. The anticipation for this gig was palpable as the queue for the show snaked around a large section of the sizeable hotel. Extra seats were brought in to try to fulfil demand from standby punters. The words "Full House" don't completely describe just how packed the function room was last night, and the audience were on top form. Our UK set runs like a dream and the addition of "Whiskey in the jar" just helped to localise the program. Here ends an extraordinary week of extreme highs and here begins a week that sees another two sellout shows, this time in Scotland. It just keeps getting better and better all the time. For now I shall return to The Highlands to breathe in some salt sea air on Nairn Beach before resuming preparations for a very busy week that ends in Moscow. Yes, Smokie are very much on the move again, so it is business as usual.
A thousand people make a lot of noise when they stamp their feet on the floor in appreciation of an artist who they would like to return for an encore. Such was the noise at Victoria Theatre last night that I thought the walls would cave in. Of course, this lovely theatre is made of sterner stuff, as is our Yorkshire audience. I'm sure they would have stayed all night if it was possible. There is always a very warm welcome for Smokie in the city of Halifax, but last night was exceptional. Now the English part of our UK Tour is complete and we resume in Scotland next Wednesday, but not before entertaining a full house in Letterkenny tonight; more about that later. In characteristic form we load our many kilos of baggage on to a flight to Belfast City and take the scenic route to this lovely Donegal town. Really, every day is a new adventure.
How crooked is that church spire? If you've seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about. The most famous landmark in Chesterfield has a variety of tales about its less than symmetrical appearance. I love it, for it oozes character and its age gives it the right to be as quirky as it likes, rather like Smokie. Our return to Chesterfield, after a five year gap, was given a big thumbs up from our eager audience. There was a lot of love in the room tonight and it felt like nobody really wanted to go home. It would have made a good last night of the tour. Sometimes there is a special chemistry that occurs for both the band and the audience and a great event ensues. Such an event cannot be contrived, it can only occur naturally. You may be familiar with the party that is thrown on impulse and ends up being your favourite one of the entire year, in spite of the lack of planning and the fact that nobody was aware that a party was on the cards. Naturally we (Smokie) always have a good time on stage and hope that the audience will enjoy the same. Wild horses couldn't prevent us from having a great time last night at Chesterfield's Winding Wheel, and we have made it our aim to make a return appearance before that spire twists any more.
We do not pass this way often; some say we do not pass this way often enough. Nobody would have guessed that it has been twelve years since our last appearance at Grimsby Auditorium. Somehow the years seem to tick away at an ever increasing speed and events that seem quite recent turn out to be further in the past than we imagine. Enjoying life is all about living in the moment, and it is this practise that is of prime importance to both musicians and audience alike. Our Grimsby audience were fully engaged and on top form on this Sunday night, as if the only important thing was to enjoy the show. That is living in the moment. There were many familiar faces, including children who have grown up during these past twelve years. Time does indeed pass and many things have changed during this period. It's a great thing, therefore, to be told that Smokie remain the same no matter how much time has elapsed. In some ways we are a link to the past as well as being a band for the present. We can only guess about the future but, if time slips away as unnoticeably as it has to date, we could soon be looking back on 2017 with fond memories of a certain day in February when we played Grimsby Auditorium.
Until now I had never taken a cross country train from East Anglia to the west coast. There is a first time for everything. My travel schedule allowed for just a few minutes before I was due on air at Coast 1079 with Steve Kaye, along with Terry. Steve was buzzing with questions from four decades of touring yet managed to restrict the interview to thirty minutes to allow us time to get to the soundcheck. Our third appearance at Southport Theatre and Convention Centre was already feeling, even before the first note was struck, that it was going to be our best. Once more we were held to promise that we would tour the UK more regularly. Nobody can predict exactly how the future will shape up for Smokie but, one thing is for sure, there will always be an eager audience for us here on our home territory. Tonight we get a chance to take a breather before our show in Grimsby on Sunday. I can enjoy a night off in Ilkley, a town where I lived for fourteen years and met Terry Uttley and Alan Silson. The rest, as they say, is history.
Where better to start a UK Tour than Kings Lynn's Corn Exchange? In this little pocket of East Anglia Smokie music is still very popular and we have no trouble filling this lovely venue. The local terrain may be flat but the crowd's response was anything but flat. A UK Tour often either starts or ends in Kings Lynn, so we are keeping with a well-tried tradition. Our audience needed no warming up, even though conditions outside were freezing. The bulk of our set comes from the very popular Australian running order, with just a couple of local variations. Meanwhile, out on the merchandising stall our album Set in Stone was on sale. Many times I was asked if we would not leave it so long before we come back to Kings Lynn again, and I think this is a wish we can happily grant. It was a great start to this 7-date UK adventure that looks like it will be a great deal of fun for both band and audience alike.
There's nothing quite like filling your lungs with salt sea air on a bracing day. England's south coast is chock full of little towns on the seafront, and Bognor Regis is one of them. Butlins has been around for a long time now, as have Smokie, so we are a good match. Our enthusiastic audience left us in no doubt before, during and after the show, that they were very pleased to see us. Slotting in an early evening performance, we were able to spend lots of time with friends and fans after the show to chew the fat and ponder on this year's tour dates. I could only grab a quick breakfast this morning as I was mostly engaged in conversations with people who had seen the show last night and wanted me to know that they thought we were the best band they'd seen this weekend. That's how things are here at Butlins. There is a lot of choice of entertainment and it's nice to know that we feature at the top of the list. Now we are warmed up and ready to go on the UK Tour that takes in seven shows. There is talk of adding some more later in the year, and I think that we will very likely go with that idea. It's good to be back on the road after a break and I feel ready for whatever our tour schedule has to offer.
All good things must come to an end. Why? So they can begin again. The world of music goes in cycles and, like the seasons, has its repeating patterns as well as its surprises. At times it feels like Smokie are still enjoying the same party that began in 1975, yet there have been so many changes around us. Perhaps part of the appeal is that the songs provide some sort of anchor to a past that holds many happy memories for people. Partying with Smokie provides a link with the past as well as a connection with the present. In a year in which we have lost so many well loved musicians there is a feeling that we not only wish to stay alive and healthy but also we want to preserve a vital legacy from an important era in the music business. Looking around at our audience at Pitea Havsbad last night I saw real love in their eyes and a real respect for the band that has brought them so many hit songs. It was a heartwarming show for a crowd that gave every bit as much as they received. In this realisation I recognise a truth in the Christmas message; to give is better than to receive. Many people need support at this time of year and we, the lucky ones, can provide exactly that without any loss to ourselves. Thank you to all our fans. You have joined us on an epic journey that takes us to thirty five countries and connects us with many different members of the human race. When all is said and done we will all have the most amazing life story to relate.
Merry Christmas to everyone. Be good to each other and continue to do so in 2017. We will see you very soon.
There is so much beauty to be witnessed inside The Arctic Circle. It comes with a cold and, at times, biting wind, but it is worth it to witness, for example, The Aurora Borealis and rainbow clouds. The district of Gallivare has been most noted for its coal mining industry, which is now dormant. Last night, however, new life sprung to Malmberget's Sports Arena in the shape of a Smokie concert. The crowd thronged the arena, filling every space and taking advantage of any opportunity to move with the music. Clearly our audience knew their hit songs and were enthusiastic to join in with the singing. While outside the Aurora continued to shine its green hue over frozen terrain, inside it was red hot with a party crowd. It may be dark at this time of year but there is always plenty of light in the hearts of those who are determined to have a good time. Today I drove south to Pitea, past herds of reindeer struggling through deep drifting snow. It's a real Christmas card view with all the trimmings that go with Christmas in The Northern Hemisphere. There was a surprise, of course, as the bus came to a halt next to a car belonging to the brother of our hostess, Ann Louise. He boarded the bus with a tray of glogg (also known as gluhwein or mulled wine) as well as dried reindeer and cinnamon biscuits. There are few times in the year that alcohol is welcome in the morning, but this was one of those times and I was happy to let my head spin for a while and just enjoy the ride. Throwing caution to the wind is characteristic of Christmas spirit. Bring it on!
Once more our Lithuanian audience stepped up to the plate, giving us a rousing reaction that had our promoters eagerly watching and planning our future visits to this country. Over the course of my Smokie career I have seen this happen many times; there is a real excitement that builds in one particular place and it is a sure sign that there is a demand for more concerts in the future. Last night's concert at Kedainiai Arena confirmed that there is real love for Smokie music and an absolute determination for the audience to get involved in the show. The outside temperature may well be minus eight, but inside there is a toasty warm reception. I now return home briefly to make some Christmas preparations before travelling to the north of Sweden for some wintery shows in picture postcard surroundings that finally set the mood in the run up to family celebrations. I can just about hear the sleigh bells in the distance.
There's something about December and Lithuania that go together perfectly. From the clubs to the arena tours with a full orchestra, it has provided an opportunity to enjoy the run up to Christmas in ideal snowy surroundings. I have seen many changes in this Baltic State since I first visited in April 1991, and one of those changes was evident last night in the audience's reaction to Smokie's concert at Alytus Sports and Recreation Arena. A normally reserved public, happy to sit and listen, turned into a full on party crowd that would have graced an Aussie gig, let alone one in a breakaway ex-Russian country. That change alone was enough to impress and perhaps it does signal a cultural shift here in Lithuania. Whatever the underlying reason, it was a joy to behold an audience letting go and allowing the music to do its stuff. There's nothing sophisticated about thrilling an audience and nothing complicated about achieving it, yet it is not something to take for granted. With Christmas just around the corner I feel that I am in the right place to spread the joy, and the results are written on people's faces.
"It's the last night and there could be tricks", was the warning from the stage. In fact our final show of the 2016 Australian Tour was relatively trick-free, apart from the trick of turning what used to be quite a reserved audience into a full-on party crowd. Once the announcement was made that this was our last chance to thrill a crowd before boarding the plane to go home, and that the previous eleven audiences had put on an impressive reaction, the pressure was on for our Bunbury audience to be the best. It's a challenge they seized with both hands. They even broke out into a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for Smokie's 41 years on the road, and entirely without any prompting. The precedent has been set, and we now have to finish each Australian tour in Bunbury. The next one? Well, we are discussing February 2019. Some people have already put it as a firm date in their diary. Let's see how things pan out. Today is a day of travel for most of us; some are going home and some are staying a bit longer. I am flying to Melbourne to spend some time with my in-laws before returning to the UK in time for the next round of gigs in Lithuania and Sweden. The Oz tour has been tremendous fun and I wish to thank everyone in our audiences for enjoying and appreciating what Smokie have to offer. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and much happiness in the New Year.
All corners of The Earth - that's where Smokie play. Often I hear it said that most bands don't make it to some of the places we reach. We have built a career around travelling far and spreading the joy as widely and generously as possible. Albany is one of those places and the ship-like design of its Entertainment Centre is an eye- catching piece of architecture as well as a magnet to culture hunters. Last night it rocked to our Aussie Set and left our audience in a happy frame of mind, eager to get us to agree to a return visit. The penultimate gig on this wonderful tour was a storming success and it now remains for me to return to Perth for a quiet evening before travelling to Bunbury tomorrow for the closing show.
My Australian adventure since 2006 all began in Perth, a place I had, up to then, never visited. Now it seems so familiar that I can barely remember not knowing the place and, in particular, Regal Theatre, Subiaco. Smokie have a very established audience here that fills the venue to capacity every time we visit. It's like a home town gig, but a long way from home. There was the biggest showing of mobile phone lights last night (the modern equivalent of cigarette lighters) during "If you think you know how to love me", as well as a tour defining reaction to our Aussie Set. Perth did us proud and is in our hearts as well as on our next tour plan for Australia. The most asked question, for once, is not "Who is Alice?", but "when are you coming back?".
Some things are just perfect as they are, and Her Majesty's fits that description. It's my only hope that the planned refurbishment does not take away the charm of this intimate venue in Adelaide. Even before the audience arrived I had the feeling that we were going to have a really good night, and that is exactly what happened. Blame it on the super moon? I don't think so, although I am happy if our little satellite played its part in bringing out the party spirit in so much of our audience. As with Tasmania, many touring artists do not make it to Adelaide.Smokie, however, always include it and always will, especially after last night's fantastic reaction. I only hope that, by the time we come to book the venue, the refurbishments are complete and that the soul of the venue remains intact.
An audience is most exciting when it moves, dances and generally shows a lot of enthusiasm. Last night's audience at Princess Theatre was in the top league in this respect. They didn't need much encouragement for they behaved like their seats were on fire. In a packed house with little extra space they managed to find even the tiniest gap in which to demonstrate their partying abilities to the full and, like our Hobart crowd, turned out in large numbers to meet with the band after the show. Tasmania has shown us a lot of love and it's been a specially memorable part of this excellent tour of Australia. Today we travel to Adelaide via Melbourne, beginning our final week of the tour which ends this Friday.
The centre of Hobart is in a bowl, with roads rising and radiating in each direction, rather like San Francisco. Being in the south of this great continent, it experiences much cooler temperatures at this time of year, including some very chilly nights. I was drawn to its harbour, a lively hub and tourist attraction with its tall ships and constant activity from ferries and other vessels. Our audience turned out in large numbers at The Derwent Centre and showed us one of the liveliest reactions we have seen so far on this tour. They were keen to get on their feet from early in the show and sang one of the loudest versions of "I don't wanna talk about it" that I have ever heard. Clearly there is a lot of spirit down here in Tas and the occupants of Hobie were keen to put it on show. We now move on for our second show in Tasmania, at Princess Theatre in Launceston. It's Saturday night and my guess is that it will be good and rocky.
Six years ago I made my first appearance in Darwin on the 2010 tour. Smokie played two nights at Darwin Entertainment Centre and I got to know the area very well, walking miles along the coast and also inland. Darwin had always intrigued me because of its location and the fact that it always appeared to be hot, regardless of the time of year and because of its proximity at twelve degrees south of the equator. What also impressed me was the loudness of the crowd, who appear to be some of the most demonstrative of Australians. Last night I was reminded of that as Smokie hit the stage to loud cheering. The volume remained at maximum throughout and it was clear that we were getting as much back from the crowd as we were giving. Talking to audience members after the show, it was evident that they had missed us on the 2013 tour, when we had been unable to find a free date to book the venue here in Darwin. One thing is for sure, and that is that we will be confirming our Darwin date early on the next Smokie tour, which is most likely to be in another three years from now. Today I am off to Hobart, the other end of this wonderful continent, in readiness for tomorrow night's concert at Derwent Entertainment Centre.
Frogs and beetles. Last time I was at The Brolga Theatre there was a large number of frogs thronging the back door to The Green Room, and this time it was beetles. You see, it's not just humans that answer the call of "Living next door to Alice". Meanwhile, the humans were doing a pretty good job of singing along to our Aussie set with all its familiar songs. Fresh from my relaxing day off in Caloundra, where I soaked up the sun and flew the kite and the boomerang, I was ready for a final performance in Queensland before moving on to the Northern Territory for one show in Darwin. This is a five-state tour that will be at the half way mark after tonight's show at Darwin Entertainment Centre, before moving on to the milder climate of Tasmania tomorrow. I am really covering some mileage on this tour, most of it by air. There's one thing that remains constant wherever I go in Oz, and that is the enthusiastic reaction to Smokie's music. Nostalgia plays a large part but there is another aspect to our popularity which is in no small way attributable to the 1990's version of Alice. Wherever she is now, she has done us a great favour, as has our loyal audience here in Oz. It's a bonza tour with absolutely "no worries". Onwards and upwards.
Four days into the tour and it was time for a road trip, the A1 Bruce Highway being our route from Rockhampton to Mackay. No need for GPS on this occasion as there is only one road and you're either on it or you're not. There was a huge crowd waiting for us at MECC, including folks from Townsville and other far flung places. The audience was well rehearsed in their responses and appreciative of the variation in our set from last time we were here. The local radio station, SEA FM, gave us some good promotion, including announcements on the news of our arrival in Mackay, and the audience turned up in big numbers. We've had four really great shows here so far in Australia and now we take a short break in Caloundra, one of the country's finest holiday spots on the east coast. With temperatures already in the red zone we can be sure to bring home a healthy tan. Now I just need to remind myself how to properly throw a boomerang for a bit of fun on the beach.
Three steps to having a good night in Rockhampton: 1. Turn up 2. Play 3. Enjoy. Even the name Rockhampton suggests a place where a gig ought to be a success. Known as "Rocky" in Australia (a lot of names end up having a 'y' or an 'ie' added at the end in this part of the world) it is four degrees further north than Brisbane and getting pretty hot already at this time of year. Clearly the audience like a bit of country music, so the Nashville songs went down very well. Also there are many diehard Smokie fans, with their original vinyl albums, who know our material very well. I think we have a very discerning audience in Rockhampton, people who know what they like and recognise when they hear it. I believe that, if we were not pleasing the audience they would let us know in no uncertain terms. That's why it's a pleasure to say that we got the best response anyone could get here in Rocky and we left it with our audience that we would be back again some time, most likely in about three years, to continue the party that never ends.
Coming back to Empire Theatre is like visiting family. There are homemade biscuits, courtesy of Friends of Empire Theatre, and flowers in every dressing room. Clearly it's the little personal touches that mean a lot to the bighearted people at this lovely Toowomba venue. Similarly, folks from Yorkshire treat everyone like a long term friend, and this may be part of Smokie's appeal. Conversation flows freely and it feels like only yesterday that we were here. In fact it was 14th November 2013 since I last chomped on the lovingly baked biscuits in this hospitable place. So, it was a great start and it continued that way all evening after we first set eyes on the sizeable audience that was waiting for us. Again, there was a big roar of appreciation as we hit the stage and the crowd was with us every step of the way. The show continued with good humour and, by the end, I had the feeling that I knew the people in the audience. After each show on this Australian Tour we meet with those who like to have autographs, and that is when we get a real chance to find out more about the people who come to watch our show. There is a big age range here, just as there is in other parts of the world. Young people are still discovering our music, forty one years into our career. Is it any wonder that there seems to be no end in sight for one of the busiest international touring bands? Talking of busy, I hit the pillow at 01:00 this morning and grabbed a few hours' sleep before getting up at 05:00 in readiness for my radio interview with Jay and Dave on their SEA FM breakfast show in Mackay. The sun broke through at 06:02 here in Brizzy and I was raring to go. Today I fly to Rockhampton to entertain our equally enthusiastic audience at Pilbeam Theatre. Is there any better job than mine?
What a great start to the Australian Tour! Of course, it was aided by the day's continuous sunshine and the near capacity crowd that thronged QPAC. Fresh from their horse-betting day, the audience were ready for a bit more celebration Smokie-style. We set the bar pretty high with this opening show and aim to keep it there for the next eleven. Returning after a three-year gap, both ourselves and our audience were ready to let it all hang loose for the night. There were a few surprises in a pacy set that ran very smoothly, with many opportunities for the audience to participate in the singing.The nostalgic element in the songs prompted the crowd to join in even without thinking about it. It turns out that we are the goto party band with a string of hits that keeps the show on a high throughout. This is a show I would happily take anywhere in the world and I am keen to see how our Toowomba audience will react tonight.
Three shows in three days, and all winners. That was the overwhelming feeling after our final Irish gig at Belfast's Waterfront. The audience has really taken to our latest set that features songs we haven't played for a while as well as one song that, although somehow associated with us, was not originally recorded by this band. I don't wish to name the songs because they are due to be part of the set in Australia and, because of that, I don't wish to spoil the element of surprise for any Australian who may be reading my blog. With only nine days to go before we strike our first chord in Brisbane we are well prepared. I can't pretend that it's not a perfect time to visit The Southern Hemisphere in general and Australia in particular because we will enjoy more daylight and higher temperatures. Meanwhile our Irish audience has, as ever, given us unparalleled support and a true heartfelt reaction at all three venues, and it's felt like a massive continuous party since we arrived in the country, beginning with our appearance on The Nolan Show. Just as the Irish have taken us to their hearts, so we take them to ours. Live performance is a two-way street - we all need each other for it to work, and there is absolutely no doubt about the fact that it has really worked and, more than that, it points to a very strong future here on The Emerald Isle.
Now, I could start my report by gushing about how fantastic the gig was at Dublin's Vicar Street and how wonderful the audience were, and that would be absolutely accurate. The truth is I am short of superlatives with which to express just how good the gig was. In living memory, it was possibly the best gig ever in Dublin. Even that does not say it all. The thing about such a good gig is that it unsettles and causes me to want to keep the party going all night; there's no point during the evening at which I am prepared to say that it is all over. Only exhaustion and the inevitable onset of sleep can interrupt this euphoric mood. Can I pay greater respect to the Dublin audience than to say "You are the best"? The bar is set very high indeed now and we must take our final Irish show to our Belfast audience at The Waterfront. Also known for their very warm reception, this is going to be a very interesting final show in The Northern Hemisphere before we unleash it on our Antipodean audience. I shall say this, it is great fun to play and it has a clearly visible effect on our audience. In the words of The Hangover Song from "Take a minute", "Let's do it again".
After a greatly relaxing time at the historic Tullylagan House Hotel with its numerous walks and fascinating museum pieces, it was time to turn our attention to the first of the three shows here in Ireland that feature new material chosen for the forthcoming Australian Tour. A sellout at Lanyon Hall meant a large receptive crowd who were into the show from the first note. With plenty of opportunities to join the singing, the audience gave their approval of a set that features many familiar songs. Our recent appearance on The Nolan Show and airing at 3:15 yesterday afternoon of our interview on Ulster Radio with Gerry Kelly helped to familiarise our audience and give the show a very personal feel. We can now look forward to another very busy night, this time at Dublin's Vicar Street where the crowd will most likely be well warmed up before we hit the stage.
Our relationship with Faroe Islands was firmly established in the early 1990's, a period when we visited each January to provide some post-Christmas entertainment. Many of the people who attended Hollin a Halsi last night were in their teens during that era so they were revisiting their early happy memories associated with our music. There was a strong feeling that we were in the company of people from a country that has adopted our music and absorbed it into their culture. Our sixth appearance in this friendly country was a complete success from start to finish. As is usual in Scandinavian countries, there were plenty of young people in the audience. It was five years since our last appearance here but I don't think it will be as long as five years before we make our return visit. The Faroese people look very happy this morning, filled with the memory of one very great party here in Torshavn. Where there's a party, Smokie are never too far away.
Our nights on Cinderella seem to get better and better. There is always a huge crowd onboard for us and the reaction is positively wild. It is only seven months since our last appearance and Viking Lines will be happy to welcome us back again soon. For me it is a very comfortable gig in very agreeable surroundings. Being a lover of the water I find the pace very relaxing, especially because Cinderella covers a relatively short distance in the 21 hours of its schedule. I have been on this ship during more turbulent waters but, for now, it is hard to even detect that we are moving at all. The night just seemed too short, our set being only the usual hour in length. It is always the case that, when things are going so well, you just don't want them to end. I'm sure we will be back before long.
It's not often I walk through the doors of a branch of Sparkasse, and even rarer that I would enter with a view to entertaining an audience. The bank has a great idea by putting on shows twice a year to give its customers a chance to see their business space in a different light. The conclusion is that it matters not whether you see desks, chairs and computers because you can have a great time anywhere as long as you can relax enough to forget about the decor. Our audience had no trouble at all doing this and they made our night as good as any that we enjoy in a hall or arena. Today we leave Germany for the last time this year whilst considering that we may have a good opportunity next year to do our own tour. If that is the case I shall be quick to put those dates on this website. Now we leave for Sweden and MS Cinderella.
It's more than eleven years since we set foot inside a Butlins Holiday Camp, so our appearance in Minehead was an unusual experience. Our overseas commitments keep us well and truly tied up all year round yet there is still the occasional opportunity to perform to a holiday crowd in the UK. The function room is very sizeable and capable of holding a couple of thousand or more people, and it looked pretty full last night. The usual assortment of wigs and accessories were on show, creating a frivolous atmosphere. We were given a suitably warm welcome from an audience that was unaccustomed to seeing Smokie on their stage. The classic songs were received with great enthusiasm and the show peaked with the song that everyone had come to hear, and that is "Living next door to Alice". As it happens, Butlins crowds will only have to wait another four months until February to see us again, next time in Bognor.
The formula worked even better last night in Erfurt, where the crowd showed a special appreciation for Smokie. It was hard to leave the stage because the cheering and clapping didn't slow. What a pleasure to experience this type of response to our performance. It has been a real change for us to share the stage with other notable acts and to take things a little easy on this German mini tour. Now it all starts to get a little more hectic for us with long journeys and tight schedules. As always, there will be prompt reporting of our experiences in this blog, so keep reading and stay up-to-date with my Twitter page for a fly-on-the-wall look at the crazy world of rock and roll.
For the majority of our touring year we are headlining overseas shows or just performing an entire show without support acts. The formula known as "oldies" has been a great success for the past thirty years in Germany, and it is still a popular format. So we find ourselves playing the arenas alongside other acts, some of whom we know very well. The first of two shows was at Leipzig Arena last night, where the audience were hungry for a bit of nostalgia. A forty-minute set really packs a punch and certainly leaves the crowd wanting more. So we fulfil two objectives - one is to catch up with friends in the business and two is to deliver a winning performance. On both counts, last night was a complete success and I look forward to repeating the experience tonight in Erfurt.
I am reminded of how we always used to arrive in Innsbruck by air, helter skeltering down through the mountain ranges (one of the twenty most tricky airports in the world in which to land) and finally coming to rest somewhere in the middle of it all. Now we land in Munich and climb onboard a luxury bus for a comfortable two and a half hour road trip. Our arrival, at 01:30, was greeted by our host and promoter who was very excited to report that there had been an over demand for tickets. From 2:00 p.m. onwards we met and greeted competition winners, recorded radio interviews and signed many autographs for the fans. Clearly there was a lot of anticipation for this visit to Innsbruck on the first day of a five-day festival. The crowd were completely warmed up before we took to the stage and their enthusiasm carried through right to the end of the show. It was an early finish for us and a chance to eat a leisurely dinner at a reasonable time in the evening. Tomorrow finds us travelling to Leipzig in readiness for Friday's show. An evening off in Leipzig could just be welcome at this busy time.
Just when I thought I'd seen the Irish at their best they manage to take it up a notch and turn Cork Opera House into the scene of the biggest party of the year. There was literally no holding them back. Fresh from our appearance on The Late Late Show, and knowing that this gig had sold out over a month ago, it was a surefire recipe for success. As if Christmas had come early, the show was a gift to the band, served up with a mass of raw enthusiasm, nostalgia and absolute warmth and welcome. It was like coming home and playing for all our best friends. I shall soon run out of descriptions so, let it suffice to say that this was one real winner of a gig. The Irish deserve to be proud of their musical heritage and their strong and unwavering taste for real music. It's with some pride that I conclude that Smokie have a permanent place in Ireland's musical history and nowhere is that more obvious than in Cork last night. With the demand for tickets running high it is possible we may squeeze in another show some time next year. If that is the case I shall make it known on this website. Thank you everyone for making it an unforgettable evening.
Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, at least it did for Galwegians and others at Black Box last night. There was noticeably more seating supplied in the venue than last time we visited in 2009 and the house looked to be at near capacity. The crowd had their party heads on, as did the band, and a happy atmosphere pervaded the scene. The audience included many young people, a sign that our music, once again, is reaching a wide spectrum of age groups. It is the sharing of musical tastes amongst generations that has kept Smokie going for so long and ensured that there will always be new fans who are experiencing the band for the first time. Galway has a rich tradition of live music and it is a huge compliment to be made so welcome in a city that thrives on such high standards in entertainment. Maybe it won't be as long as seven years before we return to this charming city. In the meantime we are off to Dublin to record The Late Late Show.
What used to be the Rica Hotel is now the Scandic in Forde, and we have played here in 2009 and 2012. It's the type of venue that fills every time and we always expect to return here and are always rewarded with another booking and another great audience. The crowd themselves drove the gig along with their unbridled enthusiasm and sang every song like they've known the words all their lives; probably most of them, being so young, have actually learnt the songs in their early years. In the 1980's, when we were achieving platinum sales, it was estimated that one in forty people in Norway had a copy of our albums. A full house plus a band that's on form, fresh from our holiday, equals a great night. Now we can start preparing ourselves for a non-stop round of globetrotting and flitting around the planet at jet speed. It's time someone perfected the means to beam us to another location instantaneously. Just imagine how many gigs we could squeeze into the year if that were to happen!
Is there some psychic connection between Smokie and the weather and does it only operate in Denmark? Where once there was an immediate response from the clouds as we launched into "Have you ever seen the rain?" there is now an opposite effect for, as we opened the first few bars of this song the rainclouds, that had soaked the audience for the entire show, parted and allowed a shaft of bright sunlight through in Holstebro during our afternoon performance. Our Danish audience are not there for the weather for they attend regardless of conditions, yet it is noticeable how the smiles on their faces widen as that great ball in the sky makes its rare appearance. There was a record number of people at the show, many more than would usually make their way to a festival at the early hour of mid-day.
There was little time to spare, once the final bars of the outro had come to an end, and we departed for Karup Airport and our regular summer transport, the Citation jet operated by North Flying. A flight of just under an hour brought us to Bergen and left us plenty of time to relax before the second show at Panorama Hotell and Resort on the island of Sotra. Our promoter, David Genius, reminded us that in 1991 we had caused a bit of a local sensation by flying in by helicopter and playing to 10,000 people at the outdoor festival. This legend had been added to when our next appearance, some years later, involved an arrival by power boat. The Norwegians remembered these last two appearances and arrived in large numbers to hear our concert last night. With such an enormous groundswell of support we couldn't fail to have a fantastic evening on Sotra and a very strong end to our summer schedule.
Now we return to our various homes to recuperate from our busiest summer schedule of all time and recharge our energy reserves for a very hectic round of autumn shows.
Personally I have now taken 108 flights so far this year, a total that would be unthinkable for anyone who actually works in the airline industry, and I still have many more to come.
I extend my thanks to all the fans who have followed Smokie during our 41 years on the road and who continue to find pleasure and happiness in what we have to offer. If the audience response is a good barometer of satisfaction I would say that we will be returning to most of the places we visited at some time in the future. Enjoy the rest of your summer and we will see you again.
Hindsgavl Castle actually lacks a castle (there are ruins nearby) but the buildings that comprise the estate are beautiful. Many acres of fencing keep the deer from straying and there are dozens of walkways, including one that leads to the old bridge. A full day of wandering around the estate kept me busy before the evening. Tickets for the show had sold out within two months so we knew that we had a full house and a very enthusiastic crowd. Our record of six appearances in Rock Under The Bridge has made us very popular in this area, so it was no surprise that the gig felt like coming home. For those who still had energy to spare there was a chance to see the Perseid Meteor Shower, but for most of us, including some audience members, we were preparing for an early start in the morning as we head for our first show of the day in Holstebro.
Now I know what it's like to play a gig in a wind machine. Strong winds yesterday blew our ATR sideways as we landed in Aalborg, and caused some chaos onstage at Jaette Festival in Suldrup in the afternoon. By the time we hit the stage at 11:00 p.m. the wind had eased slightly but was still blowing at above the recommended speed, for safe staging, of 30km per hour. While the audience were well rugged up for the chill there was no protection for ourselves and the temperature onstage with the chill factor was nose-freezingly low. However, we have a collection of songs that are enough to warm even the coldest of hearts, and that's how we keep ourselves from freezing. The crowd were fantastic and not only joined the party but also kept it going until hours after we left the venue. For some it is the last weekend to enjoy a summer festival before schools return while for others there is still one more chance. We will be back in a few days to keep the party going before we also take a break.
The stage at Skansen is on very high ground with a panoramic view across a large part of Stockholm's skyline. Whilst the fairground at Grona Lund is in operation the screams from the daredevil rides are clearly audible, there being no obstacles in the way to mute the sound. As the light faded the stage lights became more effective, creating a colourful backdrop for Smokie's set. Time was tight and a strict curfew was due to be enforced at 11:00 p.m., a custom we were familiar with after having played Grona Lund's main stage in the past. It called for accurate timing and Smokie are renowned for finishing our show right on the button. The audience were with us every step of the way, basking in the enjoyment of a show full of hits. For now our love affair with Stockholm is on hold until October 13th when we will be on the other side of the water, boarding MS Cinderella once again to entertain another ship full of revellers. And now we take a couple of flights to reach Jutland in Denmark for a late appearance at Jaette Rock in Suldrop.
We are no strangers to Mariehamn, although our experience of it is mostly confined to a brief 6:45 a.m. docking on MS Cinderella before it turns round and sails back to Stockholm. This time we were in the town and happily involved in the Rockoff Festival on Aaland Island. From the moment we arrived, on the ferry Rosella, to the moment we left the island was buzzing. At this time of year there is no distinction between day and night. Although the island is Finnish territory in a Finnish time zone, and with the euro as its currency, the language and feel is Swedish. Our audience, with ages spanning three generations, filled every space in the auditorium. In a show that started at 19:30 we were often bathed in sunlight as the clouds parted to reveal a beautiful evening in an idyllic setting. Although I know we will be rushing through Mariehamn later this year to get to Faeroe Islands I feel there is more than a small chance that we will be appearing at Rockoff Festival again in this lifetime.
All the way to Sri Lanka for one show? Yes, why not? After all, we had a sellout house waiting for us at Sri Lanka Exhibition and Conference Centre, so it always promised to be a really good night. There were no disappointments at all, for the assembled crowd showed their appreciation of our rare appearance in this country and even surprised themselves by getting up out of their seats towards the end of the show. In this deeply religious country people are very aware of decorum and correct behaviour, so it was a mindset shift for them to take on the habits of western folk and hang loose for a change. The intense humidity in the venue was positively draining, yet there was no absence of energy either for band or audience. Terry's first gig back after his operation was an inspiration and it was good to see him back on form again. Now we get some extra time in the sun before taking the evening flight to Abu Dhabi and onwards to Manchester. There is little time to spare at home as I shall be on my regular flight to Amsterdam again on Wednesday morning, on my way to Finland. The party continues.
It's a little broken, but can we fix it? All is not completely as it should be at Mr Site (something involving disk corruption I believe) so there is a temporary suspension to websites while lots of very clever people solve the problem. Meanwhile the crazy world of rock and roll speeds on with some focus and my own particular focus had been to get Slade on my iPhone screen and collect footage that will be used later in the year for a Christmas video in conjunction with The Hairdressing, Beauty and Sports Department at Inverness College. Getting my own friends in front of the camera is a joy and delight because they are naturals at entertaining. I could get used to this and would love to make rockumentaries as I travel the world with many other bands. And the show last night in Hasslo? Well, what other combination than Smokie, Slade and Sweet can produce an evening of non-stop energetic hits to thoroughly entertain the crowd at The Hasslo Festival? We now do this regularly and will be returning for another show in Stockholm on 5th August.
Our journey to Malung involved a flight on Braathens Regional Airways from Ronneby to Stockholm Bromma and onwards to Malung via Sala, where we stopped for dinner. Malung comes alive during the Dansbandsveckan and the population swells from its usual 5,200 to several times that figure as the best of the Swedish dance bands compete for the title. Our appearance at Gronlandsparken in the afternoon was thronged with a massive audience that filled every space in the venue. Shortly after we arrived at Folkets Park Orrskogen for a sound check to prepare for the award ceremony in the evening. The tension and excitement was palpable as we returned to the location for the much awaited award and revelation of the winner which, in this case, was Blender. Smokie performed three songs to an enormous response from the party guests and the evening ended on a high as we celebrated the last of David Levy's performances whilst standing in for Terry Uttley during his recovery from heart surgery.
The next few weeks have their own challenges as we travel to Sri Lanka for one show then hurry back to get to Finland. The pace never lets up, and why should it as long as we are fit and healthy?
It makes a real change to see darkness at night. Having spent so much time recently in northerly latitudes I have got used to the sun never really going down completely, so it is refreshing to get the full effect of stage lighting as darkness falls. The lights of a thousand phones twinkled like fireflies in the darkness as we struck up the opening notes of "If you think you know how to love me". Even our technicians were dancing in the wings. The assembled crowd at Vasoros Estrada had arrived with their party hats firmly in place and had lived and dreamed this moment for some time. A strong and vibrant energy came from the audience, permeating the stage and spreading to all four corners of the venue, making it impossible to escape the intoxicating effect of the atmosphere. The band and audience were locked into one rhythm, and that was where we stayed for the whole show. Our long journey to Lithuania was strongly rewarded by our eager audience and we have more than just a slight feeling that we will be back here before long.
There was a certain amount of cheekiness on the Wideroe flight to Mosjoen as we tested the stewardess to see just how much chocolate she was prepared to let us have while onboard. The whole flight was very affable and the mood was set for our visit to one of Norway's friendliest towns on the west coast. From the first moment to the last I have felt like we were in the company of old friends and this feeling intensified as, yet again, I celebrated a landmark birthday whilst in Norway. I remember wondering, at 50, how I would feel at 60 and now I know the answer - exactly the same and just as enthusiastic about playing music to a live audience. There is no real sell by date on Smokie because the next generation, like the last generation of fans continues to listen to and enjoy our music. All we have to do is stay well and keep on getting on those flights to reach all corners of the earth, and I believe that is exactly what I shall be doing for years to come. Thank you everybody for my birthday wishes. I now embark on a long journey to Lithuania so will catch up with my Twitter and Facebook messages later this evening. All good wishes to you all.
Who would have thought that travelling from north to south would have meant being colder and wetter? That was certainly the case yesterday as we left the balmy Arctic Circle behind to venture nine degrees to the south. The heavens opened for 10 c.c., who played before us at Hallingmarken, and the sky cleared again just before we took to the stage. Against a background of fairground rides in full swing and a multitude of kiosks and sheltering places we sped through an hour of hits to a contented audience. Nesbyen is situated two and a half hours from Oslo Gardermoen by road and, by the time I reached my hotel I had just three hours to rest before risking an overcrowded terminal for my red eye flights home. The turnaround time is not long and I shall be seeing Gardermoen again on Wednesday. This is the busiest time of the year for tourists and we just have to hope that, in our effort to get to work, we make all our essential connections.
Once again there was breathtaking scenery as we took to the stage in Sjovegan. The Millionfisken Festival is in its tenth year and looking stronger than ever. Our interviewers before the show spoke of how the great excitement after our appearance in 2010 had lasted for a very long time and that the festival organisers had been keen to see us back before now but had not found us to be available. The audience's reaction last night was enough to tell us that we don't need to wait six years before being invited back to this beautiful part of Norway. The land of the midnight sun has once again shown us that real magic is not only possible but is almost inevitable when we combine ourselves with an eager crowd. Nobody wanted the show to draw to a close, for it was a feeling to savour and enjoy for every minute. Something very special happened on this occasion and, if sleep seems difficult after the show it will not only be because of the permanent daylight but also as a result of the enormous high that we all felt from the crowd's reaction. I think the smile on everyone's faces will last well into Saturday and I look forward to repeating the experience.
An early show? What a pleasure. The origin of our prompt appearance in Give was the original tour plan that would have seen us leaving the venue straight after the show and flying straight to Norway for an evening performance. But the plan changed, giving most of us the opportunity to fly home last night. The crowd gathered and immediately entered into the spirit of an outdoor summer concert, prepared as they were for whatever the weather would throw at them; and it produced rain, and lots of it. But the Danes are made of stout stuff and nothing could spoil their enjoyment of the festival as they grew wetter. At this time of year the band are offered shows in many countries, and two shows in one day in two countries is not uncommon. We will visit this theme again on August 13th, just before we take our break. It's Sunday, so it must be time for me to start my own journey home to Inverness to start preparing for the Norwegian part of our summer schedule.
What's that sound I hear? It's the sound of 10,000 people going nuts at Festival Legendy at Nitrianske Rudno. It's the same sound that footballers hear when they enter the stadium and it is the most inspirational sound for any performer as well as a huge energy booster. On paper it looked like our schedule would really take its toll on all five of us but, in reality, there has been no sign of waning energy or of lacklustre performance. Every one of these last three shows has been a winner, and now we can only hope that our football team can keep a similar pace and score enough goals to take the lead. As we are discovering, age is no barrier when faced with an enthusiastic crowd, and we have certainly met a few of those lately. Now we have a small opportunity to recharge ourselves before the Danish part of our adventure.
A long travel day brought us to Romania for our second appearance this year, this time at Sala Polivalenta in Cluj Napoca for the "We love Retro Festival". The searing heat and humidity hit as we stepped off the plane and it was clear that last night's show was going to be a hot one. Sharing the bill with Bonny Tyler, we took to the stage around 9 p.m. to deliver a punchy 75-minute set that had the audience jumping from the first note. Our earliest memory of Cluj included the recording of the video for "And the night stood still" in a cellar bar, a clip that may still be viewed on YouTube. Our globetrotting continues today with a flight back to Vienna followed by a 240-kilometre drive back to Nitrianske Rudno in Slovakia. Let's not let the grass grow under our feet.
Arriving at the venue shortly before our appearance at Sedmihorske Leto 2016, we walked through and waved to a massive crowd that were assembled and listening to The Cell, a band with whom we have worked before in The Czech Republic and whose music lives on my iTunes collection. The Czech Republic is emerging as a territory with some very good summer festivals with attendances in the 20,000 to 40,000 range, such as The Holysov Festival in which we played last year. The capacity crowd last night gave us a huge noisy welcome as we hit the stage. There was equal appreciation of the old and new songs as we took the crowd through a fly-through of Smokie history. Conditions could hardly have been more perfect for this is mid-summer and the festival spirit is at its best. And now we return to our complex schedule that sees us travelling to Romania before doubling back to return to Slovakia. When the work is offered we take it and then work out the logistics afterwards. It is our accessibility that makes us the darlings of the festival scene and that reputation is what helps us to cover the globe in both an orderly and disorderly fashion. It's all about being there.
"Go west", they said, so we did and I'm very glad. While Stavanger Airport has had a major upgrade there has also been a tunnel project from Stavanger to Tau, due for completion in 2019. In the meantime there is the ferry service, a 40-minute hop across the water. The west coast was enjoying some warm summery weather that helped to bring out a 2,000-strong crowd to Jorpeland last night. The location was picture-perfect, the crowd were on very good form and Euro 2016 nearly delivered the result that our football-loving band members were hoping to hear. A system of sign language from beyond the police station at the harbour shared the news of England's first goal, a piece of news that was immediately shared with the audience. Our show finished at sunset which, at this latitude, is close to sunrise time. By 7.00 a.m. there was considerable warmth in the air to make the return ferry crossing comfortable and enjoyable. After a quick check-in at the newly refurbished airport there was plenty of time for a trip to the beach with its clear blue water and white sand that could have easily been mistaken for Barbados. It's little pleasures like this that help to take the sting out of an 18-hour journey home, and we need all the help we can get because next week throws up some additional travel challenges that would test even the hardiest of frequent flyers.
There are summer festivals and there are summer festivals, depending on what Mother Nature has in store. Apparently this part of the globe didn't get the memo that there are only twelve days left before that great ball in the sky starts its journey south. The biting wind created a bone-chilling freeze on stage that belied the astronomical date. However, there's a lot more to summer festivals than balmy evenings; warmth comes in many guises, chiefly from our happy audience at Mysen Sommerfestival. At least we have the long daylight hours that light up the faces of those who come to see us. Today we journey west to where conditions are slightly more favourable for late night revelry.
Waldbuhne in Schwarzenberg was true to its memory of six years ago as we approached the auditorium and heard the roar of 12,000 people. Now it feels like summer, not only because the mercury has risen (especially since Greenland) but also because the outdoor summer festivals with the big crowds are underway. Another feature of the "oldies" shows is the limited time allowed for each act. Smokie's thirty five minutes packed a real punch and lifted the audience to a real high at a vital point in the program. It was well worth the journey from Trondheim to feel the energy of a large crowd again and it was a pleasure to shed the warmer clothing in favour of summer wear. Germany has suffered some terrible flooding of late, but we were lucky to only experience a warm, balmy evening that was perfect for a celebration.
Melhus is a picturesque community with a large arena, The Melhus Bank Arena. Inside is a full-size football pitch with artificial turf. Such a facility is a huge asset to this town on the south side of Trondheim as well as a great venue for concerts. After a morning of trying our hands at salmon fishing in the nearby River Gaula (no fish were caught) we took whatever gear had made the journey from Amsterdam to the arena for soundcheck. Despite a slightly chilling wind, summer was in the air and the venue was later teeming with punters from the surrounding districts. Our show began at midnight and ended a little before daybreak. To my delight there was sushi waiting in the dressing room as we left the stage. As well as being a successful festival it was a great opportunity to catch up with an old friend of ours, Johnny Logan. This as the first of a series of Norwegian concerts for Smokie in 2016, our next visit being on 10th and 11th June. Now we make our way to Germany for another late show in Schwarzenberg.
Sometimes it makes a change to get down and dirty and back to our roots. Such an opportunity presented itself last night at Kristinemut, a western saloon style restaurant on Nuuk's main street. Billed as "guests", we used borrowed gear to carve out a short set for the assembled crowd. The origin of the gig is in the fact that there are no flights on Sunday, so an extra appearance is part of the plan. The band had a lot of fun, as did the audience, and it was a great way to say our farewells to this beautiful country.
Two gigs in the same place can vary enormously because every single gig has its own special signature, rather like snowflakes. Before the show I met with several members of the audience who were fuelling up for a great party, and that motivation seems to have been shared amongst last night's audience. I also met with our promoter from 1997 who had some recollections that fired up some nostalgia. Now we have become more familiar with Greenland it seems that we will get more invitations to return, and that would be a great privilege. Like South Africans, Greenlanders have adopted our music and absorbed it into their culture, so it is not just likely but it is also essential that we pass this way on a regular basis to keep our fans happy. I shall be more than happy to return to this magical place and I am always happy to look into the faces of people who are having such a good time.
In Greenland at this time of year sleep appears to be an optional extra. Because there is no real darkness there is a tendency towards street football at 4 a.m. as well as late night revelry that merges into breakfast. Smokie hit the stage right on midnight and the crowd appeared to be well prepared. The PA, that had appeared to be perfectly loud enough during the soundcheck, was challenged by the sheer number of bodies soaking up the sound. Everyone had their party heads on and the evening dissolved at great speed. Our fifth appearance in Greenland was received with enormous warmth and enthusiasm. Hotel Hans Egede is our home for a few days as well as the venue for these first two shows. Will Saturday be wilder than Friday? We'll know at midnight.
It was time to brush off a few cobwebs as we embarked on a busy period. Our Romanian adventure was reduced to a single show at Filarmonica Banatul Theatre in Timisoara. The theatre itself oozed charm and gave testimony to its heritage as a rehearsal and performance venue for classical musicians. Last night it allowed itself some breathing space for a bit of rock music with classical overtones. Our Romanian audience demonstrated that they were more than capable of rising to the challenge of partying Smokie-style and the ninety-minute set slipped away in the blinking of an eye. We now begin our geography tour of the globe, darting around from country to country in a not too logical way in order to reach our audiences. The extra daylight and heat from the sun will help to sugar coat our demanding schedule, but probably not until after we have made our return trip to a rather chilly Greenland. Gloves and scarves it shall be.
A gig at short notice - that's how our Sandra Restaurant booking came into being. We were in Sweden anyway and would have found ways to occupy ourselves, but this was much better. The audience turned up in good numbers and found their form quickly. It has been some time since we were in the beautiful city of Kalmar and it was good to get a chance to take a look around during the day, there being no tight schedule governing our time. We have an early start in just a few hours as we travel from east to west to make it in time for a mid-day arrival at the studio in Gothenburg for the recording of Bingolotto. We even finish in time to fly to Amsterdam before continuing our onward journeys home for the Easter celebrations.
News came to us yesterday morning that not only was the MS Cinderella sold out last night but that Viking Cruises wanted to book us for a second show in the autumn. Such a strong start, coupled with some very sunny spring weather, was a fine morale booster before the show. This was our sixth time on the Stockholm to Mariehamn booze cruise and the appetite for Smokie music doesn't seem to have waned at all. There were very many happy and familiar faces in the audience and those people who were seeing us for the first time were full of compliments. I particularly enjoy this show and the whole day's relaxing that goes with the 24-hour adventure. Being on the water is such a great contrast to our jet-set lifestyle in which speed is necessary to ensure we all reach our destinations. At the speed at which MS Cinderella travels there is all the time in the world to do whatever you like. I've always loved cruising and I shall be delighted to come back later this year, especially if the audience are as hot as last night.
It was great to be back in Denmark again at Park Vendia, where a big crowd were assembled and ready for a Smokie-style party. Just moments before going onstage we decided to give something a little different to the audience in the form of two extra songs from the Wild Horses Nashville album. The response was tremendous and it was evident that there is an appetite for a greater variety of songs than just the biggest hits. With a catalogue of over 300 songs there is plenty to choose from and now we can include songs from the "Boulevard of broken dreams" album amongst the classic hits. There is much to look forward to this year and I am particularly excited about the summer events that find us returning to Denmark some more. It really is like coming home.
Tickets are now on sale for our Australian Tour that begins in exactly eight months from today. It's a whistle stop 12-date tour that sees us covering a huge number of miles in just eighteen days.
It's some time since I walked on a frozen stretch of water. The last time was in 2004 on the Sea of Japan at Vladivostok, but today I was on the hard-as-concrete Siljan waterway in Leksand, along with skiiers, skaters, snowmobiles and pedestrians. The clear and sunny blue sky made the snow look even whiter on this perfect of winter days. What a great way to relax before our show at Tegera Arena. We last played Leksand in the summer of 2006, and things looked quite different during that visit. There was plenty of enthusiasm for Smokie music at the arena last night and the audience gave us a very warm reception to thaw us out in this chilly weather. I guess that nostalgia plays a large part but even our Nashville songs from 1997 have become classics in this part of the world. Our mini Swedish tour being over, we make our way back to the UK for a weekend off on Mother's Day, returning to Denmark on 12th March. One week later we will return to Sweden for a few days, commencing with a show on the Cinderella. No doubt we will meet up with some of our most devoted fans on board.
We were joined once more by our friends in Slade and Sweet for a brief 3 S's tour of Sweden, starting in Orebro. The city's Kulturhuset is one of the most familiar sights for us because we once played there three times in one year in the 1990's, and several times since. But last night's show was at a different venue, Conventum Kongress. A packed house greeted us as we hit the stage at 22:30, and the audience was on very good form indeed. They needed little encouragement to join us in singing "I don't want to talk about it" and their vocal renditions continued loud and strong for the rest of the evening. The lights of Orebro twinkled as we left the venue, making the city look very inviting for a post-gig refreshment. After such a great night there was little urge to sleep straight away. Such a night as this cannot be planned, but happens when everything just falls into place effortlessly. What a pleasure and how nice to be back in this very attractive city.
Our fourth appearance at Crocus City Hall seemed to draw something out of the crowd that we hadn't seen before and a highly animated audience got very involved with the music. Their response to "What can I do?" was without parallel, as this most popular song in The Russian Federation stirred their emotions. As always, there is a huge nostalgic element that operates amongst our Russian public, meaning that the original hits have made a very comfortable home over here. So ends our brief visit to Russia for now, but we will be back soon. Details of the next show will be available shortly.
I really think we started something on 23rd December 2005 when we appeared at Oktyabrskiy Concert Hall with a local 25-piece orchestra. The appreciation we received for this gesture seems to have lived on and Russians have very good memories. It's not hard to love St Petersburg for it is a great city. Smokie's re-appearance at this lovely venue was just as richly rewarded as our first. It has been a very strong start to our touring year and gave us an opportunity to enjoy some time in this magnificent city before our performance. We don't get to spend a long time in The Russian Federation this time round but we are scheduled to return in April. But first we take the Sapsan train to Moscow for a return performance at Crocus City Hall, a venue we have played for the last three years. Last night's show was a special commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Midnight Cafe album. Although much time has elapsed since the making of that album little has changed in the audience's appreciation of the band's music. Long may our special relationship last. Thank you to all those who have followed us through the years.
Our date sheet changes daily and there are plenty of dates yet to fill, so maybe we will end up in your neighbourhood some time this year. With energy fully recharged I am looking forward to taking on the world again. See you soon.
The Irish just about own the song "Living next door to Alice". They made it their own in 1993 and they staked their claim to it at Armagh City Hotel last night. There is no better party than one that is celebrated in this hospitable country. They dance on the tables and chairs and they storm the stage at any opportunity. Everybody in the audience wants to be part of the action on stage, just to get a greater connection with the band. I so love coming to Ireland and being amongst it's people. There is no better way to end our touring year than to be in the place that is so close to home and so familiar in its customs. Our 40th Anniversary year is now over and we have visited 22 countries. Now we can embark on the next decade with the knowledge that we have made many friends around the world. The New Year beckons and there is much to look forward to. For my part I shall be on home ground, visiting friends and partaking in the Highland tradition of first footing. Thank you to all our fans and friends for your unwavering support. Have a great New Year celebration and I shall see you once more in 2016.
Fresh from the Boxing Day showing of "Star Wars - The Force Awakens", I was careful not to get mixed up between The Millennium Falcon and The Millennium Forum. As the wind picked up once again in Derry I was hoping that the roof would hold this time at my favourite venue in this lovely city. During this period between Christmas and New Year (I think it deserves its own name) I usually find myself back in Ireland, and mostly in the North. After waking up yesterday to news of flood devastation in Yorkshire I didn't know how many of my colleagues would be with me last night, but they were all there, as was the eager post-Christmas audience. Our show followed the usual afternoon pantomime that gave me the inspiration to see how a set of bird wings would look on a keyboard player. Maybe I'll try the horse costume next year. I think we are just as likely to be there a year from now as we always get invited back. Watch out, we could become the resident band for December 27th! Today we move on to Armagh to follow another afternoon pantomime and keep the momentum of the festivities going. It's exhausting, all this celebrating. I need a holiday.
The clean crisp snow matched my expectations and made Rovaniemi a beautiful place to behold. Everything seems quieter when the snow lays because traffic drives slowly and people mostly walk around the town centre, their footsteps just making a slight crunching noise that is very peaceful. Inside Lappi Areena it was anything but quiet as our energetic, Christmas-ready crowd rose to the challenge. Santa made a welcome appearance, being careful not to overshadow the evening's musical event. I was promised a visit on Christmas Eve and I, in turn, promised to be good until then. This lovely town keeps the Santa story alive for all and hosts many a festive tourist in search of the dream. Dreams come in all varieties and my own dreams come true as a result of the wonderful effect that music has on its listeners. Smokie have struck their final chord before Christmas and it now remains to begin the long journey home that takes me from Rovaniemi to Helsinki, Amsterdam, Manchester and Inverness. Our 40th Anniversary has really been a year for catching up with so many of our fans and it has been such a pleasure to tour the globe in celebration. I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and happiness and prosperity in the New Year. Remember to dream big and use some of the magic that is in all of us. In this troubled world there is a real need to stay positive and help others to feel the same. For my part I shall look forward to seeing you all again soon.
For our final two shows before Christmas it was time to head north; not a little bit north, but a lot north to Finland. In this country, at least, there would be a bit of a chill in the air to remind us just how far away the sun is from our hemisphere. As we fast approach the shortest day there is much darkness yet there is so much light as every building twinkles with extra seasonal illumination. There is magic in the air in this charming country and, even though we are not yet in Lapland, there is anticipation of the postcard-ready scenery that awaits us. Meanwhile at Seinajoki Areena there was a very warm reception for us from an audience that was definitely wearing its party hats. Scandinavians typically go out late and carry on partying until the early hours of the morning. Smokie were lucky to have the audience at the time of night when they really start to warm up. Since we have not overplayed this lovely country there was a very fresh response to our songs and a feeling that we will be welcome to come back a little sooner next time. Now we head further north to inside The Arctic Circle to join our fellow musicians in Slade and Nazareth for a scenic end to this two-day arena tour. I expect that Santa might take a look in, even if it's just to join in the chorus of "Alice" while the elves continue to pack the sledge. Now I'm getting excited.
The lights from hundreds of mobile phones lit up the auditorium in Hala Tivoli as we struck up with "If you think you know how to love me", creating a magical atmosphere like the glow from fireflies. It's not such an unusual sight yet there were more lights than I have yet seen at a concert. The audience were bursting to get out of their seats and took the first opportunity to do so. As Smokie's 40th anniversary draws to a close (five more shows yet) there is an overwhelming feeling that our support around the world has risen exponentially. Firstly, people have taken Smokie music to their hearts and absorbed our songs into their musical culture, and second, they have become accustomed to the names and faces of the band members. Our history is very important to us because, without it we wouldn't be here, but our present days are what define the Smokie of the future, a future that looks very bright indeed if we can continue just as we are. Smokie is a very strong team. We stick together through all conditions and that makes us very hard to break. All too often you hear of teams that are no longer together because someone has had enough and you wonder how things would have been had they stayed together. Well, here we are and we're still playing new places, taking part in new TV shows (Dritseint med Edel) and joining new ventures (Smokieness beer). Watch out 2016, for here we come and we are ready!
Rock against cancer has been the charitable cause, at the heart of last night's celebration, for the last ten years. The tickets for the show, held at Niklas Luhmann Gymnasium in Oerlinghausen, sell out in just three hours. Smokie are just one in a long line of bands who have played there. As with all charity events there was a great atmosphere of hospitality and congeniality, being mindful that the event was so much more than just a gig. The crowd's singing form during "I don't wanna talk about it" was second to none. It was great to face a German audience once more and deliver them a little more than just the hits. Their response was tremendous and the night ended with a charitable signing session and donation from ourselves to the worthy cause. Most of what we are able to do for the charity is in the form of our presence which, of itself, draws the crowd who buy the tickets to support the cause. Music is very strong in this area and it is great to be able to make such a contribution to an issue that may affect most of us at some time in our lives. All in all it was a very happy occasion and a good way to bid farewell to our German audience in the run up to Christmas.
If Britain had the sort of temperatures in our Summer that Tel Aviv has in its Autumn we would be very happy. The beach was full, the bars and restaurants were full and the sea was busy from sunrise to sunset with bathers and surfers. A lazy day, soaking up the last rays before Sri Lanka in February, was followed by a sellout gig at Heichal HaTarbut. Our mini tour of Israel has been made all the more enjoyable by our lively crowds, keen to see what for most Israelis was their first chance to see us perform. We have certainly formed an unbreakable bond with our Israeli audience over the past three days, and one that should see us returning in 2017 for sure. What a pleasure it has been and I look forward to our return visit.
The lights of dozens of mobiles illuminated the full Haifa Auditorium as the audience swayed to the tune of "If you think you know how to love me". It was like coming home, such is the friendly welcome given by our Israeli audience. Their applause at the end of each song always lasted longer than expected and probably lengthened the show by about five minutes. Our sellout tour ends tonight at The Hall of Culture in Tel Aviv before we are due to leave this lovely part of the world to travel back to Western Europe. I am looking forward to the final show because my instinct tells me it's going to be something special.
Although this was our fifth appearance in Israel it was only our first to an Israeli audience. That may sound odd but our contacts in this part of the world are Russian and they have so far arranged concerts to Russian audiences. Last night was different after the impact of the national advertising campaign took effect. Hangar 11 was full to bursting and the crowd were keen to hear the band that created the soundtrack to their youths. Once more we have uncovered a nation of people who grew up on Smokie music and who waited patiently for us to come and visit their country. The wait was well worth it, as they proved once they started singing. As a bonus the show was transmitted live by Galaiy Zaahal, the Israeli army radio station, so it reached a much wider audience than just the one that was present at the venue. It was a very strong start to our new experience in Israel and set a high standard for the next two shows.
Henriette Steenstrup was very respectful towards Smokie in her Dritseint med Edel TV show last night. Her colourful language and unkempt appearance make Edel a very popular character in Norway, so we are reaching a young audience once more and keeping Alice alive for another generation. Yesterday was a fine opportunity for a nostalgia trip around Oslo to admire the changes as well as take in the impact that immigration has had on this country. One thing hasn't changed at all and that is the Norwegians' love for Smokie music. How lucky we are!
It has been many years since I was in the area of Fornebu, just outside Oslo. This used to be the home of the international airport until it was moved to Gardermoen. The venue was Telenor Arena and the event was a 60's and 70's party night. Coinciding as it did with Halloween, there were some interesting wigs and accessories on show. The format of the evening was very much in the same mould as the German oldies shows in which many bands perform but each band only has a short set to play. Appearing at the end of the evening we were allocated a 35-minute slot in which to cram as many hits as possible. Our arena set went down extremely well and we were rewarded with long applause as we left the stage after this brief appearance.
Now we will stay in Oslo for a little longer because we are due to record an episode of "Dritseint med Edel" for TV2 on Monday evening. I expect that Henriette Steenstrup will have a lot of fun with Smokie, but we might need an interpreter as I believe the whole show is in Norwegian. Takk Henriette.
Once again we joined the Norwegians for their Dark Season Festival, a celebration that has been going for the last eighteen years. Our second appearance at the festival three years ago saw the biggest crowd in the festival's history and last night equalled that record. It's not hard to thrill a late night audience at the end of a festival with four decades of hits, beginning with the song, "Boulevard of broken dreams", that re-launched our popularity in Norway. As the wind blew the rain hard against the windows of Caledonien Hotel the crowd were oblivious to everything except the music. Being the last festival of its kind until Christmas, it was a chance to let loose and party like crazy, being aware that the prize at the end of the evening was an extra hour of snoozing before the morning coffee. It won't be long before we are back in Norway (about five days) but first we must get to Israel on Wednesday. I think I must put that washing on to Quick Load if I want to be ready in time for the next jaunt.
Just when I think I have been literally everywhere in Norway I discover the quiet little town of Honefoss with its Kultursenter that used to be the cinema until ten years ago. It's not a huge venue but it was certainly full of people tonight. As I scanned the audience I noted that they had probably grown up with us and knew the whole Smokie story from A-Z. An audience like this are so appreciative of what we have brought to their town and they showed their appreciation from beginning to end. As we approach the last day of summer time before the clocks change and restore the hour of sleep that we lost in March, there is a real flavour of Autumn in the air. The nights are cooler and the russet leaves lie in big piles on the pavements and in the parks. It's time to wrap up warm again when we're outside and keep those fires burning when we're indoors. There's something cosy about the welcoming lights in the home that makes me want to hibernate until the sun comes once again. Let's hope that winter isn't too cruel this time.
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside, especially when the lobster is this good. Yesterday, however, we had bigger fish to fry when the news came in that neither our equipment nor our technicians would make it to Germany. A technical fault at Leeds Bradford Airport led to a catalogue of disasters that amounted to our crew being too late to travel, so we were in the hands of local crew and hired equipment. To say that this was successful is an understatement indeed for the gig powered along with an excellent sound, thanks to our German colleagues. It is not an experience that I would choose but, having been put in this situation, I have to say that a great sounding gig can be constructed by communicating with unfamiliar yet professional crew. The Kongress Hall was full to bursting with a lively crowd who were informed of our predicament. As we struck the first notes it was clear that there was no harm done at all and, in fact, everyone rose to the challenge to make this one of the best shows of the year. Timmendorfer Strand was alive with visitors all day and, even as I left for Hamburg Airport last night, the party was still in full swing. Nothing could have spoilt the very lively atmosphere of this beautiful seaside setting with its energetic and enthusiastic population. I have always liked the seaside and last night confirmed my beliefs that a good breath of sea air is a magic ingredient for a happy day.
Sunday marked the end of a holiday period here in South Africa, so it is expected that a lot of people would be preparing to return to work and children to school. However, there was still some celebrating to be done in The Big Top Arena where Smokie played our final show of the tour. South Africans never do things in half measure and their celebratory skills are no exception to the rule. Knowing just how much this nation has adopted Smokie music, it's no surprise that our Sunday welcome was just as big as Saturday night's.
The tour has been a tremendous success, fitting in just three shows in a year in which we will have visited 22 of the 25 countries in which we regularly appear. As with all big anniversaries there are many people to consider who should be part of our special celebration; getting around the world to visit all those people calls for some pretty intensive travelling, and that's something we do on a very regular basis. We leave South Africa today with very fond memories and a sincere wish that there will be an 11th tour some time in the future.
Coming to Carnival City is like coming home. Everything is familiar to me - the rooms, the venue, the food and the welcome. I am not much of a gambler, but I can appreciate the draw of this mini Vegas. A full house in The Big Top Arena means a big noisy party, and our audience didn't need asking twice to get it started. It was as if everyone was engrossed in their own special celebration. In a sense we are already high because of the altitude here in the Jo'burg area, so it only takes a tweak to push everyone over the top. After ten appearances in South Africa the message is very clear - South Africans love and have adopted our music. There is no party without Alice and, if we ever find her again, I'm sure that she would love to join in our celebrations (as long as we can tear her away from Sally).
Doing a mini tour of South Africa means hitting the ground running. Breakfast TV and radio is an essential part of promotion as are late evening media events. We tend to grab food and sleep as and when the opportunity arises, rather like the military. However, our experiences are all positive ones and help to energise us.
Once the last of the promotional TV shows was aired we were ready to start the tour. In the past few years we have performed at Grand West Casino in Cape Town, but this time we were at Liqui Fruit Amphitheatre, alongside the impressive Taalmonument in Paarl. A steamy hot day, that was reminiscent of our weather in Brakpan, led to a balmy evening at the outdoor amphitheatre. The crowd was on good form and ready to party. It may have helped that the seating was concrete and perhaps it was a relief to stand up. The double set was well received and showed the audience an extra dimension to Smokie's repertoire.
A 7-hour journey took us from Pilsen in the west to Ostrava in the east of Czech Republic. A short soundcheck confirmed that last night's Gremlins were exorcised and we were good to go at Bonver Arena, a sports hall dedicated to basketball. The arena filled early in the evening and, by the time Smokie took to the stage, the crowd was keyed up for some rousing singing. The vibrancy of Ostrava was evident, as is well represented in the city's logo with the three exclamation marks. Our support in this country is unquestionable and it is rewarding to find so many Czech citizens who have taken our music to their hearts. This year has seen us performing more often than usual in Czech Republic, and I would personally welcome a situation in which we play here even more regularly. As is ever the case, we respond to our invitation to play in all countries in which we are popular, and that is an ever growing list. It's good to be able to say that in this, our 41st year, we are still attracting new territories, and I don't think we have finished yet.
There was magic in the air last night, as well as a few Gremlins. The people of Pilsen filled the curiously named Kulturni dum Peklo (Culture House of Hell) and joined in the fun. A wave of singing and dancing started at the back and sides and eventually spread all the way to the front, making it impossible not to be drawn in by the atmosphere. Songs old and new were received with equal enthusiasm. This was our fourth show this year in Czech Republic, and each one has been received with unwavering support. An early finish gave way to an early start this morning as we begin our 7-hour journey to Ostrava at 07:30. My guess is that our Saturday audience will be every bit as good as last night's one. It's good to be back in this hospitable country.
Starting our Autumn touring in a spa town is a welcome booster. With so much wellness on offer it is hard to resist the temptation to soak up all the remedies. For my part I missed the whole experience as easyJet once again let me down and I had to invest in a new ticket to reach Bad Fussing in time for the show. However, I rolled into town before mid-day and revived myself before preparing for the first show after Smokie's break of six weeks and two days. A mature audience greeted us at Grosses Kurhaus and gave us a suitably warm welcome, rising to the challenge of getting up on their feet towards the end of the show. Whatever remedies they were enjoying would be just as applicable to a band who are celebrating 40 years of performing. Just to test our mettle we are now embarking on some lengthy road trips as we cross the border into Czech Republic for a couple of shows. There's no point easing back into touring when you can run at it and, at the same time, burn a few calories.
How do you execute the perfect plan? Well, you can't really but you can hope it will all happen anyway. Yesterday the perfect plan did come to fruition and it felt like I was gliding through the day with all the ease of a martial arts master practising the first steps. There is always a lot of anticipation when it comes to the final show before the break because we all know that we won't be doing this again for another five weeks, therefore it is both a pressure and a relief. But somehow a big hand appeared from nowhere and gave us all a glimpse at how good things can be without us really having to try. From our arrival at the relaxing Fra Mare Thalasso Spa to our exit from the stage at Haapsalu Piiskopilinnus it was a breeze aided by a following wind. Again there was a huge turnout for this final show in the castle grounds and it was clear that the audience were on great form and 100% ready for a party. In this situation there is no concept of warming up an audience because we can miss out that stage completely and get down to business. Even the low bass rumble at the beginning of the show seemed to be enough to turn on the magic so that all we had to do was to take our eager crowd through our catalogue of hits in order to bring about a frenzy of euphoria. There was humour as we cheekily re-entered the stage for the encore by hiding first behind the drum monitors before re-appearing centre stage to the delight of the crowd. By this time we could have played our national anthem on a kazoo and it would have gone down well. There was a feeling of lightness or effortlessness in the air that made last night's performance very much more than a special event.
As a I write this I have seen a bed for approximately 2 hours and am already on my way home even before dawn. Such is the life of a rock and roller for we rarely keep normal sociable hours but rather tend to skip between the expected sleeping hours to grab whatever opportunities arise for a brief look at a bed before continuing on the relentless schedule of flights to and from home. I am about to embark on my 100th flight this year before breaking up my 7-hour layover in Amsterdam with a snooze at an airport hotel. I expect the bed will feel particularly inviting at a time when I would normally be fully functioning and busy with the affairs of the day. My feeling on this Monday morning 10th August 2015 is that Smokie have done a wonderful job of celebrating our 40th Anniversary so far this year, taking our music to seventeen countries to date. We have performed in a big variety of places and pleased our audiences with both acoustic and electric presentations of the songs so well known around the world. I have said it before, but it really doesn't get much better than this. It's thanks to all our wonderful fans who share our vision and who feel inspired by our music and the lyrics that mean so much to so many people. Together we make a very powerful combination and a welcome relief from the cares of the world. Music is escapism and we all regularly escape from harsh realities to take a big inward breath and then to breathe out love in its purest form. Many people never experience this so we are indeed the lucky ones. I wish everyone well during these next few weeks and I look forward to resuming this wonderful lifestyle at the end of September once my internal batteries are fully recharged and restored to full power. Whatever you do please try to do it with the same enthusiasm that you feel when you are watching the band. The world will be a better place for it.
From Villa Margaretha, our charming Art Nouveau hotel in Tahe Street, I had a birds' eye view of Tour of Estonia, the bike race that sees hundreds of cyclists whizzing through the streets of Tartu at breakneck speed. However, I like to get out and about during the day and I walked some 12.3 miles yesterday while reminding myself just how great is the city of Tartu. As the temperature soared it wasn't just the cyclists who relied on frequent drinks of water. We left stormy weather behind to appear at Lauluvaljaku Park in Antsla where conditions were perfect for the show. A massive crowd awaited us and it took some time for our transport to weave its way through to reach the stage. There was an atmosphere of anticipation that erupted as we hit the stage. In common with our first show in Viljandi there were a lot of young people and children in attendance. I know how The Who must have felt at Glastonbury this year, for the respect shown to the band in this, our 41st year, was palpable and the knowledge of our songs was universal. Now we make our way across country to Haapsalu where our final show before the break is likely to be a cracker. Perhaps we should at least wipe off all that health-enhancing mud from the spa before we present ourselves to tonight's eager audience.
As I ventured south towards Amsterdam yesterday I was reminded what summer can feel like once the clouds have rolled away. Ironically I am now at a similar latitude to Inverness yet the temperature difference is enormous. Hot balmy nights make sleeping difficult but are a welcome condition for festival goers. A large crowd gathered at Laululava in Viljandi and they weren't huddling together to keep warm. As daylight faded a solitary hang glider came into view above the heads of the audience. The low bass rumble that precedes the show prompted the crowd into action and they never lost their pace from beginning to end. Our first show of this Estonian mini tour reminded us that their are a lot of fans in this country and they know the words to the songs, even the young ones who have recently discovered Smokie. Estonia is not very large and its size has enabled us to spend two nights in Tartu and commute to these first two shows before we cross the country to make it to the west coast on Sunday. It is the perfect way to put a cap on our summer touring before we take our big break. With two more shows to go the excitement is building and the effect will, no doubt, be reflected in our live performance which may well get a big final dose of adrenalin. Watch those energy levels soar.
Once again we were put to the test by a travel delay, this time caused by an IT problem at Gardermoen Airport that put a halt to all check-ins for a couple of hours. With a long journey to consider we started to wonder where we would spend Saturday night. On the lucky side we made it all the way to Cluj Napoca, with the help of ground staff at Munich Airport. On the not-so-lucky side our equipment remained in Oslo where the bulky baggage belt had failed to operate. We arrived at our hotel at 4 in the morning. I felt the heat of the sun just a few hours later and realised that it was better to get moving than to roast in my hotel room. The main street in Zalau was alive with activity and anticipation for the show that would attract 40,000 people. At 2 p.m. we met the mayor at a press conference and then gathered at the venue to see what sort of equipment we had managed to borrow and hire for the evening's show. As we took to the stage at 10 p.m. it was clear that the numbers had clearly equalled or exceeded expectations. The daytime temperature of 30 degrees had barely cooled in time for the show. Only 24 hours earlier our promoters had wanted some sort of evidence that Smokie were really going to make it to Romania. On our arrival we were as happy as they were to be in Zalau in time for our concert. The social networks were buzzing, as were the audience who gave us such a rousing welcome that we soon forgot how much we had been tested in our efforts to make the show a success. I think success doesn't completely describe last night's event that surpassed everyone's expectations for it was a happening on a grand scale. We were asked at the press conference what is so special about our Romanian audience and I have to say that their energy is relentless. There is no better reward for our travel adventure than the rapturous response of a big crowd, and we had that in large doses.
The moon came into view shortly after Smokie took to the stage at The Treungen Festival. An impressive sight against a nearly cloudless sky, it was the "blue moon" that had been discussed and explained earlier in the day. It's nearly possible to see it as being blue, although the colour has nothing to do with its name. It was merely the second full moon in the same month, which is rare, hence the expression "once in a blue moon". It's appearance was perfectly timed to accompany our best show in Norway to date. If there's truth in the belief that the moon can raise the level of activity amongst creatures (animals included) there was certainly plenty of evidence from our audience last night who were absolutely fired up and ready to party. A hot day gave way to a chilly evening but there was nothing but heat around the stage. There can be little more exhilarating than feeling the energy of a huge crowd as they link together and gather in excitement. If we could bottle this energy it would surely power a city for a whole year. Free energy anyone? It's only a matter of time!
At this time of year, the first question I ask before a gig is "Is it outdoors?", and the second is "Is it near water?". Those little biting insects are just aching for human blood and, once the stage lights are on, they tend to swarm around our heads. It's very hard to play and swat at the same time, and there is only one (not too successful) solution - to douse myself in insect repellant. It's not the nicest smell you can imagine and it certainly clashes with the Fahrenheit aftershave, but it may just cause some of the small predators to change course and bite someone else. I remember well a show we played at a Swedish Folk Park where I arrived prepared for the biting war, only to discover that the gig was indoors. The heat onstage only served to make the smell of insect repellant even stronger and I nearly had a dressing room to myself. Smokie's return to Dokka Camping Ground was well received by a crowd that had waited until late in the evening in rather damp conditions. There was only one way to keep dry and happy and that was to sing and dance to a succession of hit songs. I feel that we cheered up an audience that were in need of a little boost last night while, at the same time, giving the moths some interesting targets at which to aim.
For the third time this year we arrived at an airport to discover the words "flight cancelled". No panic, we just queued alongside all the other stranded passengers and awaited our fate. The outcome didn't look good as Austrian Airlines seemed to only be able to get six of us to our destination anywhere near on time. Once Lufthansa came to our aid we were re-routed to Linz, some 90 minutes away from the gig, as opposed to Vienna which is much closer. The final outcome was that we travelled for 13 hours and arrived at the venue just as it was time for us to go onstage. The audience witnessed our arrival and gave us a hero's welcome. Donaubuhne is a floating stage, well, a ship really. It connects to land via a permanent gangplank and there is a shallow water channel between the stage and the audience. On such a hot day this channel came in handy as several of the audience walked in to the water to cool their feet and get closer to the band. The announcement that the band had managed to make it to the gig on one of the busiest and most difficult travel days of the year was greeted with rapturous applause. We could do no wrong and the evening progressed to one of the most memorable of the year. There is nothing like a successful gig at the end of a challenging travel day to make us feel totally satisfied with our efforts. Another tick in the box of life's achievements.
Because Smokie's tour schedule takes us to such a variety of places we experience wild swings in temperature as we move through different latitudes. It is hard to completely adjust to these variations since we are only in each place for a short time. From being freezing cold at 70 degrees north to being very hot at 48 degrees we have to quickly grow accustomed to the climate. Today has been properly hot (around 34 degrees) and that heat has permeated all the buildings and kept everything warm through the night. It is no surprise that our audience were so ready for the show at Rathausplatz because, at the very least, they were warmed up. No umbrellas tonight, just lots of smiling happy people with suntans. Bad Durrheim has a lot of treatments available for a variety of conditions but Smokie have only one cure for all illnesses and that is music. The crowd were elated, and their mood really carried the show to great heights. A concert is a two-way event for, whilst the audience are watching the band, we are watching the audience. We are both watching a show, in a sense, and the band get to look at thousands of faces while the audience get to look at only five. With or without a treatment, just being in Bad Durrheim has made me feel better. There is definitely something in the air here.
It was nearly a year ago that I first heard of The Holysov Festival. The news was that it was quite "hard rock" yet they wanted Smokie on the bill. Last night the chance to headline this excellent festival turned to reality. There was no better way to end the hardest week of our touring calendar to date - at a festival for around 25,000 people on a hot evening in a perfect setting. Our hosts at Alfredo Golf and Wellness Hotel made us very welcome and it gave us the chance to recuperate for a couple of hours in beautiful surroundings before making our last trip to the stage until next Friday.
The whole week has been an adventure that saw me celebrating a birthday, riding a bike the furthest north I have ever had the opportunity to do so, performing four successful concerts and taking to the skies in the salubrious Citation 3. Adventures don't get better than this in fiction. Being truly alive as opposed to just existing is all about experiences with others of the human race, and my unique experiences remind me that I am living extremely well, according to the divine plan. It really couldn't be better.
For us to successfully reach Riga, according to our original plan, all three flights needed to be on schedule with no delays. That is the perfect world version. As it happened, our plan fell at the first hurdle. Norwegian reported a 40-minute technical delay to flight 321 from Alta to Oslo. An alternative flight needed booking in a hurry and scheduled airlines were not looking favourable. Our old friends North Flying had a Citation 3 available which we gladly met at Gardermoen to connect to Riga. Our flight not only arrived earlier than our original schedule but it was more comfortable and stress-free than the alternative arrangement via Stockholm. With a bit more time available to recuperate I was able to refresh myself before the 115 kilometre drive to Zagare in Lithuania. For the second time this year we had turned a disaster into a success. A capacity crowd awaited us at Regioninis Parkas, umbrellas at the ready. Any type of weather was still better than the freezing conditions in Lakselv. Our announcement onstage regarding our travel adventure was received with enthusiasm and the crowd were with us every step of the way. A very happy outcome for a mid-summer debacle. The travel plan continues today with a flight to Prague and a 120 kilometre drive to Alfredov. I love festival season and wish it lasted longer.
Holding a festival on the 70th latitude at midnight is little different to holding it at mid-day. There are no sun-up and sun-down times because the sun never leaves the sky. That ought to mean that the evenings are warm, but it didn't work that way at The Midnight Festival in Lakselv. In fact it was near to freezing on stage with the wind chill, an outcome for which the audience were prepared as they were dressed in winter coats. As fingers froze on stage the playing became more of a challenge. It was mostly the warm reaction from the audience that helped us to forget numb digits and proceed as if everything was normal. The daytime temperature had been very favourable and I had hired a bike to get around Lakselv, enjoying the first real sunshine of the summer for this area. We left the audience as they readied themselves for another five hours of music that would last nearly until breakfast. Our priority was to start making progress on the long journey to Lithuania that takes in three flights and a road trip. Only in summer would such a journey be considered, thanks to the long hours of daylight and mostly warmer weather. It pays to make hay while the sun shines.
In any remote location in Norway lies the potential for a summer festival. As long as there is a flat enough area of land (surrounded, of course, by mountains) there is a chance that a large colony of campers will make up a sufficiently large population to justify a musical event. Add to this ingredient a few stalls selling cowboy hats and clothing and others selling mandatory wigs and other accessories and the stage is set for a real nostalgic celebration. Such a celebration took place in Sel last night at the Dansefestivalen where Smokie took to the stage at 11.00 p.m. In mid-summer Norwegians don't go out until this time, so it is like the start of the evening. With so many people in residence in their caravans and mobile homes we had a captive audience that completely filled the venue. The cooler climate made the inside of the marquee very comfortable and maybe contributed to the energy reserves felt by band and audience alike. Smokie were given a proper Norwegian country welcome that, needless to say, was hospitable to a fault. Prior to the show the loudest noise in the area was the raging river, full to bursting, but once the strains of Boulevard pierced the air there was nothing else on people's minds as they scrambled to fill the dance floor. Our aim was to give these good people a party to remember, and I think we achieved it.
Back to the sober business of touring. Who said my wife is a bad influence on me? Smokie have finally made it to Liechtenstein during our 40th Anniversary. I expect there will still be places where we haven't yet played (including The Moon) and it is always exciting to be somewhere new. However, Liechtenstein does seem very familiar; there is a seamless transformation between Switzerland and Liechtenstein where nothing changes at all. The scenery is the same, the currency is the same and the cattle would look just as good gracing the wrapper of a bar of chocolate. Clean air and high mountains create a refreshing ambience in this beautiful country where the temperature reached a sizzling 36 degrees yesterday (96.8 if you like it in Fahrenheit). Our audience were happy to see us at the high altitude festival in Malbun and ignored the draining effect of the evening's heat to let loose anywhere that there was a bit of floor space. From Boulevard to Alice, they were with us all the way and one question arose in my mind - what took us so long to get to Liechtenstein? The answer may lie in the fact that the country really is very small, so there would not be many opportunities for music festivals. Now we have played one I expect there will be more because one thing remains a constant in our touring lives, and that is the fact that wherever we play we generally get invited back. I guess we must be doing something right and, whatever that thing is, I think we should keep on doing it.
It's gone very quiet on my website, and that can only mean one thing - I have been partying with the champagne girls and was too busy to write my blogs. Our party began at Manchester Airport on Thursday night and continued with the standard rock and roll "red eye" flight, alongside the summer-dressed youth on their way to sunnier climes. Our two-day adventure started at Tradgardsforeningen in Gothenburg, where we had previously played on the Status Quo tour on 23rd July 2006. Looking so much like Kew Gardens, this is a fabulous venue with beautiful gardens and plenty of open grassy space. The 3 S's tour had begun for 2015. With only the two dates available from our busy schedule this year, we have had to put two more dates in for February 2016. Gothenburg welcomed us on one of the first sunny days of the summer (for there was no heatwave like in 2006) and an evening of hits was received with great enthusiasm. We then left the fresh and fragrant atmosphere of the gardens for a harbour view alongside the Tivoli in Helsingborg, where the air was slightly cooler and the sea breeze carried a bit of moisture. With or without umbrellas the crowd stayed the distance for a whole evening that ended magically around midnight and left our Swedish fans finding several open bars and clubs and carrying on with the drinking until breakfast time. The sound of the street cleaners came shortly after the last revellers staggered home and the smell of coffee served to wake up the sleepy heads from their all-too-short night's rest. For some the tour was over but for us it's the continuation of the never-ending travel merry-go-round. People come and go throughout our career; sometimes we catch up with fans who haven't seen us for ten years or more, only to demonstrate that nothing really changes in the world of rock music and that our music has so far survived for three generations ( the fourth one is coming soon). Each time I travel home I start to think and plan for the next journey for which I rarely have to wait long. But this weekend I took part of my home life with me as Roz joined me, accompanied by those special friends, the champagne girls. Their experience of my industry has been a good one and they would happily do it all again some day, as I expect they will. I remind them that, no matter how much they enjoy their work, they will never get a round of applause at the end of their day. We are indeed the lucky ones.
What a beautiful location is Dzintari Concert Hall in Jurmala. The building itself is one of the oldest in the area and the auditorium is open on three sides, allowing a very refreshing breeze on to the stage. This location is a much sought after holiday destination that shows off some very spacious and beautiful properties, thanks to the forward thinking architects. A sea view completed the picture and made the location paradise perfect for a great evening. I hardly need to report that the show was a knock down success as well as a talking point for the locals. Rarely does a venue have such a wow factor that it is just clear from the start that conditions are perfect for a really great celebration.
Getting home after the show has proved to be a special challenge after Air Baltic cancelled its morning flight to Amsterdam, leaving us all scrambling for alternative routes and myself in particular with a 4-leg 18-hour journey to Inverness.
It's all in a day's work and I wouldn't have missed the beauty of Jurmala for anything. The summer schedule resumes in Gothenburg on Friday where the three S's continue with our evening of non-stop hits. Let's keep the party going!
If I look back 27 years (and a bit) I find myself playing to my first ever German audience in Lubeck. I remember the location, the reaction and the new people I met. Such memories are firmly locked in, unlike the short term ones that require me to, for example, remember whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday when I did my radio interviews for the forthcoming show in Latvia, and whether I started or finished staining the decking on the day in question. Last night Freilichtbuhne was buzzing with the anticipation of a big 40th Anniversary German-style party. The great thing about an amphitheatre is that we can see every single person in the audience, and that makes the gig so much more enjoyable than if we are struggling to make eye contact with our punters. The day had been very hot and had resulted in some stormy weather in the early evening that meant that the crowd were obliged to reach for the rain gear. Furthermore they had a long wait while our technicians bravely put the equipment together after a late arrival from Hamburg. However, the audience were more than ready for us by the time we hit the stage, and they showed their appreciation with great largesse. I was back in Lubeck again and the experience was even better than my first time. I even saw some of the same faces from 27 years ago. Together we have grown and changed yet one thing will never change, and that is our propensity to enjoy ourselves together over a few well-established hit songs.
I have never seen more motorbikes than last night at Magic Bike in Rudesheim. Come to think of it, I have never seen more trains than the ones that swept past the back of the marquee at roughly 3-minute intervals. Harley Davidson's profits would surely have swollen very substantially after their models became so popular to German enthusiasts. Some of these bikes look like they must surely be ridden by giants with legs like tree trunks. They range from the very brightly coloured variety to the stealth matt black type that resembles something that could easily belong to Batman. So what does this have to do with Smokie? Well, you know that our music crosses many frontiers and, over the years, we have discovered that bikers enjoy what we have to offer. I guess it's the way we put the music across as well as the content. There is attitude in our delivery and we rock a little more than is expected of us, that is if you base your expectations merely on the material from the 1970's. In what has to be the second hottest gig of the year (after Malaysia, of course) we melted in tandem with our audience, yet everyone in the room showed a massive burst of energy throughout the show. It was like a community workout with music thrown into the mix. Because the heatwave had only arrived today nobody was yet acclimatised to the sudden rise in temperature yet we were all happy to see that great ball of fire in the sky and get the skin tingling again. There is nothing like a bit of hot weather to start everyone talking to each other once more after the long winter and extended spring. As we left the venue and the mile-long line of motorbikes I had the feeling that we could all have happily kept the party going longer. I think that there was more than a connection with our audience - it was more like an unbreakable bond. Sometimes it's just hard to say goodbye, so farewell will have to do.
Was it my imagination or did last night's audience follow us all the way to Wexford? It certainly seemed that way as the crowd linked arms and got the dancing going. There was ostentatious waving of mobiles from the galleries and synchronised swaying from the stalls. Our audience knew the lyrics to songs spanning the full forty years and they were happy to sing them with vigour. There were many references to our last visit to Wexford Opera House on 7th March 2009 (a date that means a lot to me because it is my Smokie anniversary). Once again the audience drove the show along with their energetic response and proved beyond doubt that an Irish crowd are the best in the world. We have a long and involved history with Ireland and its people have played a large part in our popularity around the globe by encouraging the outbreak of spontaneous parties worldwide. It may be a small island in geographical terms but its impact on the international scene is huge. For now we must leave this wonderful country and turn to more frivolous pass times, including a secret appearance in a secret country. Which one? .....it's a secret.
At the risk of repeating myself I have to say that an Irish audience that is on form is the best audience in the world. They sing louder, they dance sooner and they wave their mobile phones like their life depends on getting attention. A full house is a happy house and there was nowhere happier than Cork Opera House last night, particularly after the announcement that Smokie were supporting ourselves and playing for the whole evening. As the show progressed it felt more and more as if everyone in the room knew each other, such was the closeness brought on by the reaction to our show. To say the evening was special is an understatement; it was one of those rare occasions when everything seems just perfect and nobody wants the evening to end. Now the Irish have been treated to the very best show that we take on tour they have rewarded us with so fine a response that I think we may have set a new standard in this music-loving country that has done so much to keep Smokie popular. Today we return to Wexford Opera House, where we were the first band to grace the stage and turn it into more than just a classical venue. I have a good feeling about our return visit.
It's a big surprise to find an 8,000-capacity arena in the heart of a small rural community yet that description fits Randaberg Arena. The venue could probably hold every single inhabitant of this area, so it is more than adequate for the needs of the community. Last night a large crowd took their places to be entertained by the very popular Plumbo, followed by Smokie. We are witnessing the same effect that has influenced young listeners in Norway which is that they hear the music that their parents like and then make up their own minds. Yet again we are lucky and this next generation have taken to Smokie music and have come to the concert to hear more of what the band have to offer. "Boulevard of broken dreams" was released 26 years ago, so many of the people in the audience were not alive at the time. Somehow the dramatic opening with this hit song stirred the whole audience into party mood and the celebration was relentless from the first note to the last. So I am glad about two things - one is that Randaberg has such a great venue and the other is that so many turn up to enjoy our show. Although the weather has not quite kicked into Summer mode yet there is a shared anticipation of those lovely outdoor festivals with a bit of heat from the sun; I am fairly sure we will all soon be enjoying these unless our climate has any more tricks up its sleeve.
After a straight ten shows that featured the double set Smokie were required only to put on one electric set at Stadthalle Schopfheim, and the audience loved it. We now know that any combination of sets can work in any venue, although there is still mainly a preference for the double set to sit-down audiences and the single set to stand-up ones. This tour has been a tremendous success from so many points of view, not least of which was our opportunity to give variety in a show that truly represents the last forty years of our recordings. We have made many happy memories during the last two weeks and made new friends in a country that has been firmly attached to Smokie music right from the beginning. The Gold album helps to bring a bit of Smokie history to the forefront while charting the changes that have made Smokie the band it is today. We have evolved into an international favourite, touring nineteen countries each year and presenting our audiences with much new material while breathing new life into the earlier songs that have become absorbed into the cultures of so many countries. We are truly very lucky men and we know it. Let's see if we can do another ten years.
After a lengthy spell at customs due to our initial overweight status we finally rolled in to Herisau around 3.30 in the afternoon. The setting up of the gear has now become a finely honed exercise at this advanced stage of the tour and our soundcheck was completed quickly to make way for the audience who completely filled Casino Herisau. There was no doubt, right from the first note, that this audience were ready to enjoy everything that came their way and they soaked up the acoustic set with vigour. By the end of this set we were under the impression that we could have recited poetry and still got a great reaction, such was the positive mood of the crowd. The electric set just put the icing on the cake and a large proportion of the audience stayed back after the show for autographs and photos. Our visits to Switzerland are few and far between and it would be nice to be here more often. Perhaps now we will be - only time will tell.
There was just time to take in the stunning sights of Regensburg with its old stone bridge and gothic cathedral before setting off for Burglengenfeld's Veranstaltungszentrum. The first strains of the acoustic set drew an instant reaction from the crowd. They were liking what they heard and we were enjoying playing the songs. After an afternoon of casual sauntering it felt like there was no hurry. Just as the acoustic set was laid back so the electric set was full on under the intense heat of the stage lighting. A cool and calm opening set led to a sweaty rock gig, both of which were enjoyed by the audience in equal measures. We only have one more engagement with the double set in Switzerland before returning to the more familiar single one. It's been an adventure and an education for Smokie. I have a strong sense of achievement after these last nine shows and feel that we have done enough to warrant a return to Germany with a similar formula at some time in the future. The audience themselves have made it clear that they like what we have chosen to do on this tour of Germany and that they would like to see us do a similar thing again some time. After the show everybody had a smile on their face so I guess we backed a winning formula. Now we transfer to Munich for a couple of days off before resuming in Herisau.
On entering Alte Seilerei I was greeted by one of the largest posters I have seen during my Smokie career, second only to the huge building-sized poster that adorned the outside of a venue in Seoul in 2002. Once the band had signed this poster it was destined to be auctioned and the proceeds are to be donated to charity. What a great idea and what an enormous trophy for some lucky bidder. The decor at Alte Seilerei suggested "rock venue" and we had brought our now popular mix of acoustic and electric goodies to Mannheim. The audience could not have been more appreciative, following our every chord with relish. As was the case in Hamburg, the audience drew in very close to the band to create an intimate atmosphere of mutual musical enjoyment. A successful stand-up gig will soon be followed by the same in Burglengenfeld where our Sunday crowd will be treated to the same mix. It's a never-ending party for Smokie and a deep desire from our audience that we repeat the experience some day.
Haus Auensee is the largest venue we have played so far on this "Evening with Smokie" tour. The audience very quickly got in the mood, appreciating and enjoying the acoustic set and even dancing along to the songs, not wishing to stay seated for long. While the acoustic songs ease our audience into the music the electric set takes no prisoners at all, requiring all the energy the audience can muster. The reaction in Leipzig was possibly the best we have seen so far on this tour. I would like to spend a little longer in this lovely city but Mannheim is beckoning us. Today our standing audience will get to enjoy the same show as the seated ones.
I was informed last night that Smokie's last appearance in Dresden was in 1999. Can it really be that long? Well, things have changed round here and we had a full day to enjoy all the new additions to this beautiful city, along with some very agreeable weather to make the whole experience more memorable. A perfect day ended with a show to light up Dresden's inhabitants at Alter Schlachthof. Perhaps now we can look forward to more regular visits to this highly attractive city and another chance to bring a show with great variety to an eager audience.
Fabrik is a favourite rock venue in this part of Hamburg. A lot of bands play here. We played here in 1988 on the "Don't worry, be happy" tour. But this is 27 years on and we have greatly refined our act to include acoustic versions of popular songs. Such a presentation is perfect for theatres and concert halls, but how about unashamedly gritty stand-up rock clubs? All I need to answer that question is to recall the look of delight on the faces of our Hamburg audience as we took them through our musical fly-by that represents 40 years of Smokie music. We didn't ask anything of our audience that they found too challenging and their reaction to the double set was a resoundingly positive one. From the band's point of view it was good to be able to have close contact with the crowd during the acoustic set, a feeling we are used to experiencing when we crank up the volume. It's all different when the volume is quieter and, consequently, any sounds from the audience are audible. My observation is that our audience were very happy with what they heard last night and many of them said they would like to see the show again. The cat is out of the bag, and we can continue our intimate shows with confidence. Those fans who have said, for years, that they want to see only Smokie and to hear our new material are having the time of their lives. This tour of Germany is re-defining what a tour needs to be in order to satisfy the wishes of those most important people - those who pay to see us. Now I really believe that they are getting their money's worth.
Being in the centre of Berlin stirs memories of 1988 when we were obliged to exit the former East via Checkpoint Charlie and cross a busy road during the Berlin Marathon. The road was supposed to be closed to non-runners but we had to reach the other side to get to the airport and fly to Norway. I ran sideways across the road with my suitcase, becoming a great obstacle to the contestants. It was a chaotic attempt that could never be repeated in 2015, but it forms part of my memory of this impressive city that has shown me so much during the last 24 hours.
Bringing "an evening with Smokie" to Friedrichstadtpalast was a master stroke that allowed us to find out just how it would be to play new material to a theatre audience in this capital city. Once again our expectations were greatly exceeded by the enormously positive response of the crowd. After a day in which I joined a gym and rowed 8,000 metres and then walked 8,300 metres around the city I might have felt like my energy was depleted, but not last night. When the audience respond in such a way to the band we find new reserves of energy easily and quickly and there is no evidence of fatigue, even after a long travel day, once the show has started. Our tour continues to Hamburg where we find out just how well the double set works in a standing venue. Are we in for yet another surprise? We'll soon know.
I feel greatly privileged to be in the home town of Georg Friedrich Handel, with its rich cultural heritage. I fondly remember taking part in many recitals of "The Messiah" in my younger days as a vocalist. In a venue named after the main man Smokie brought a more up-to-date type of recital to Halle (Saale) in the form of the now popular double set. Our audience filled the hall both in numbers and in voice. Together we created a sound that I believe would even have excited Mr Handel had he been around to witness it. I firmly believe that yesteryear's classical composers would have been today's rock and rollers and would revel in the enormous range of sounds we now have at our fingertips. There's a lot that's good about being alive in the 21st century, we should never forget, and one of those things is our ability to enjoy an immaculate sound in a well-designed venue where volume is never lacking. Perhaps Mr Handel would find Smokie to be too loud compared to an un-miked string ensemble, but I expect the sheer vibrancy of the event would inspire him, as it did the audience last night. We now move on to Berlin for a night off before resuming on Monday.
I have often heard fans say that they wanted to hear new songs from Smokie, and we have always been limited both in the length of our set and the format of the show. When we left the UK we had no idea if this "evening with Smokie" would work in Germany. Now we are certain that it not only works but it brings out a fresh and vibrant reaction from our German audience. They seem very happy to listen as well as to get involved in the music. What makes the show so enjoyable for us is seeing people having a really great time and losing themselves in the music, and that is exactly what has happened here at Bruckenforum. If this is a sign of how the next few shows are going to run we are in for a very good time indeed. Because the double set is working so well there is talk already of doing some more similar shows in future. I believe that our German fans deserve to get the same opportunity as other fans around the world to see a show that truly represents our range of material, rather than just concentrating on the original hits. It's a pleasure to present something new and I really look forward to all the rest of the shows here in Germany.
There was a great deal of excitement regarding this, our first German tour since 1996. How would a seated audience react? Would the new songs be well received? We had no need to wonder any longer because our welcoming audience at Festhalle Harmonie were more than ready to enjoy what Smokie had to offer last night. It's easy to say "if only we'd done this before now", but the Oldies shows have been good to us. However, there are many people who wish to see Smokie do our own tour and they particularly appreciate that we play for the whole night without using a support band. This format works well for the six seated venues on this tour, yet we will have to revert to the single set for the stand up shows. With ten shows to go I expect we will experience a lot of variety on this tour. One thing I can say for sure - it's been a very strong start to what promises to be a wholly engaging tour in this, our 40th Anniversary year.
MS Cinderella set sail against a beautiful blue sky, right on schedule as usual. At first you are unaware that the ship is moving and then there is a gentle sway as the vessel carves its way through the multitude of islands at twelve knots. This celebration followed hot on the heels of Easter yet it drew a large crowd in the newly refurbished ballroom on Deck 8. I much prefer the new setup because the stage is roomier and there is a better view of the whole audience. Our dramatic opening with Boulevard of broken dreams worked beautifully and the show went from strength to strength as the night progressed. Many of our ardent Swedish fans were in attendance and I am sure that we will be meeting again at the end of June. Now we continue our leisurely sailing pace back to port before going rather quicker back home by air to make ready for our first tour of Germany since 1996. Of course we have played there many times since but always with other bands. There are interesting times ahead.
There was a lot of love in the room tonight, as evidenced by the flashing neon sign at the back of Scandlines Arena which read "Smokie - we love you". Many of the audience mouthed the words to every song, indicating their complete knowledge of our catalogue of hits. Together we partied like it was Saturday night, which it clearly was. As is customary on this weekend at the end of March we issued our reminders to everyone that we forfeit an hour's sleep tonight while welcoming in the start of British Summer Time. One listen to the howling gale outside my window makes me wonder whether it really is time to start shedding clothes in favour of more lightweight gear. Even the daffodils at home have failed to show their heads before Easter. At least those chocolate eggs won't melt due to over-exposure to heat. In fact we may still keep the champagne cool by putting it outside the back door. The family will be home so there is much to celebrate during this short break before Smokie resumes in Stockholm.
Our 40th Anniversary Tour continued into Denmark at Jyske Bank Arena, where a full house waited to greet us. This mini Danish tour is shared with Sweet, so there is much catching up to do on the tour bus. The audience"s reaction last night told us that we still have a very strong and lasting connection in this part of Scandinavia; even our record deals are still sealed in this country, the latest being the digital download contract that sees us releasing a 4-track EP each year. This ensures that there will be plenty of new material for Smokie fans to enjoy over the next possibly five years. Late nights invariably precede early mornings and we are currently making our way across Denmark for the second of these shows. There's something comforting about sitting in a tour bus knowing that we are already in the right country and not having to hope that the weather doesn't cause the cancellation of flights. As I write the sun is streaming through the window and warming the inside of the bus yet it is doing little to warm the outside temperature. One thing is for sure - it will be warm onstage tonight.
I have it on good authority that Oslo Gardermoen Airport has only been closed three times since its opening in 1998. So yesterday was its third time and it caused a great deal of excitement in Lillestrom where the Kultursenter was ready for a Smokie gig. Never ones to shrink in the face of adversity, our intrepid half of the team who were stuck in Amsterdam stayed focused on the job in hand, namely to get to Oslo whatever obstacles might stand in the way. The determination paid off and our demi colleagues arrived in time for us to be ready with only a twenty three minute delay.
The audience had, themselves, been party to the cancelled buses and planes so they were as experienced as we were in this matter. On seeing that the band were fully prepared and full of energy the crowd responded with a similar burst of enthusiasm to make this Thursday night in Lillestrom one to remember.
I personally love the theatre and have the utmost respect for the staff who made a tricky day feel like a breeze. This was one gig that nearly didn't happen yet, once it did, it was top notch.
As we woke on Saturday morning we witnessed the hurricane force winds that were forecast to ground all aircraft until the afternoon. Our Kiev show had already been rescheduled and it looked like, once again, there was a question mark over its likelihood. My regular airline, FlyBe came to the rescue and delivered us safely to Birmingham from where we continued our epic journey via Manchester. In this business the show must go on, regardless of the events that lead to its occurrence. Our hosts were relieved to see us as we entered the arrivals hall at Kiev's Borispol Airport. The familiar sight of Palace Ukraine waited to greet us; the audience underlined that greeting with a rousing response to our first show here in four years. We are all aware of what is happening here in Ukraine because it is rarely out of the news. But we are musicians, not politicians, and it is music that binds people together in times of crisis and I feel honoured to be able to share an experience with those brave people who face an uncertain future in this part of the world. Whatever happens here it is clear that the music of Smokie can at least put a glow in the hearts of many Ukrainians.
Harpa Concert and Congress Centre is a building that attracted a lot of criticism due to the timing of its construction when the Iceland banking crisis hit the headlines. It's an impressive facility and one that is a major part of the landscape, and now it is being used to its fullest extent it can be regarded as a great asset for the people of Reykjavik. It was certainly an asset last night as Smokie packed two full houses in one evening to put on a show that the Icelanders had waited twelve years to see. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and there were many hearts bursting with emotion last night. We were given an enormous welcome each time we took to the stage and it was clear that there is a very established place for Smokie's music in this territory. As is often the case when shows go very well, the next visit is already being planned so we don't have to wait another twelve years before our next visit.
As we began our evening's entertainment last night the news came through that our flight today had been cancelled due to hurricane winds. As I write this the wind is very strong and extremely noisy. Our planned journey to Kiev has taken on a rather different form and we are only hoping to get out of Iceland and back to the UK at some time today, wind permitting. We are in the hands of fate but will try everything to reach Kiev by tomorrow night. The elements are still more powerful than man yet we can always hope that a greater power will see the need for us to make it safely to Ukraine and do what we do best.
I hope that you will be able to read on Monday of our success.
Here at muddy estuary we have had quite an incredible week. Arriving a week ago, we had the opportunity to listen to many of the local bands, sample any number of different cuisines, and absorb the sun's rays at an average 33 degrees. I even turned tourist for a day to get a closer look at what KL has to offer. The whole week has been a build up to the show last night at Surf Beach, Sunway Lagoon. Coinciding as it did with the anniversary of MH370, the crowd was a little smaller than expected, and that is perfectly understandable. However, as with all crowds at Smokie gigs, it doesn't take many people to make a lot of noise and our Malaysian audience got their message across that they were very pleased to see us. As darkness fell there were a few storms and the dry lagoon became rather damp, causing sauna-like conditions on stage. We have come from the Russian Urals to the tropics and now return to Iceland, so the body has a lot of temperature changes to deal with. It's all part of being an international band and it certainly shrinks the world as we traverse it at great speed. We have one more day in this tropical paradise before joining Etihad Airways and taking the quickest way back to the UK. Several meals and several films later I shall be washing all my clothes in readiness for the next leg of the 40th Anniversary Tour.
I have landed up in some very interesting places on my Smokie anniversary but this is the most exotic. As I look out my window at Sunway Resort I see that the lagoon is being drained to make way for an audience of around 15,000 people. At 4 in the morning the lights are being auditioned for the show of the year. Technicians will meet at 7 and prepare the sound equipment a full day before the big show. Our hosts are taking no chances because they want everything to run smoothly and they have never before undertaken a festival on this scale. Nineteen bands that are used to entertaining around 100 people a night will be facing a huge crowd; for them it is the chance of a lifetime and for Smokie it's business as usual. Frequent thunderstorms halt progress and slow down the traffic. We are in unknown territory as 8th March approaches and only Smokie have the experience on which to draw. It is due to be a very interesting day tomorrow and one that could set new standards for Malaysian music. But today I am looking back as well as forwards. Twenty seven years as Smokie's keyboard player have shown me a most interesting world full of fascinating people. I never take for granted the wonderful opportunities afforded to me via this utterly absorbing career. Every moment is to be cherished and today I shall take in some of Malaysia's cultural heritage while I ponder on the last twenty seven years.
Ogni Ufi has always been a strange gig for me. The stage has, as its backdrop, a mock-up of castle walls that scream Spinal Tap. However, there were vast improvements this time, including a better sound system and a better stage. It made all the difference to the band and it certainly helped the audience to capture the mood. Before long the whole audience were on their feet and dancing, and that is a sight worth seeing in this part of Russia. Now we have a day off, as a result of the cancellation of the show in Sterlitamak, and a chance to pick songs for the album. Normally I would be out pounding the pavement but it is minus twelve outside with a wind chill of minus eighteen, and I'm not game enough to stay out for long, especially as I shall shortly be in plus thirty in Malaysia.
After last year's concert at Crocus City Hall we were curious to know how ticket sales would go this year in Moscow. The difference in 2014 is that we shared the evening with The Illegal Eagles, an excellent tribute band from the UK. But there appeared to be some confusion last year as people perhaps wondered whether the whole event was performed by tribute acts. This year we had a chance to find out as, once more, we were on our own. The truth is that Smokie still pull a very good crowd without the need to pad the show with other admittedly good artists. Although it can make for a very good evening it is the proliferation of hits from ourselves, an established act, that really lights up a crowd. There are not so many places in the world where you can divert the attention of a large group of people on a Wednesday evening and get then moving like it's a Saturday night. Last night Moscow was one of those places. Whatever may be going on politically at present it is completely forgotten when we make music. What a pleasure to be able to remove folks from their concerns for a while and get lost together in pure enjoyment.
My spare time in Prague was spent a little differently on this visit. I saw the city from another angle and wandered around like a real tourist, taking in the atmosphere. I even had the chance to ride a Segway, something I've always wanted to do since I first saw the machine. The sunshine lent a bit of a Spring ambience to this impressive city, although it was anything but warm.
It was known in advance that our show at Lucerna was sold out, yet the sight that met our eyes as we took to the stage was truly inspirational. Our Czech public were more than ready for us and left us in no doubt that they want more Smokie. It really doesn't get better than this, although I think I've said that before and look what happened. It's true to say that everyone was delighted with the show and the impact it had on all those who attended. We have really started 2015 on a huge high from which no-one will wish to come down. We'll soon be carving our way through the skies to The Southern Hemisphere where one very big crowd is waiting for us. More about that later but, in the meantime, there are domestic affairs to take care of before embarking on the next leg of the 40th Anniversary Tour.
A trip to Brno is greatly enhanced by a visit to Spilberk Castle. My hosts, Karolina and Peter, took me through the whole experience, including the tram ride. I was greatly impressed by how friendly and helpful the locals were in pointing us in the right direction each time we needed assistance. We soon made it up the hill to the castle and were nosing around in the cells and torture chamber, as you would on any normal Friday afternoon.
I cannot reveal how many people filled Sono Centrum Music Club in the evening because the numbers were far greater than the capacity of the room. Let's just say that there was no space for anyone to dance and most people had to be careful with their elbows. As the Irish would say, there wasn't room to turn a sweet in your mouth. In a room that's so full we could only have a great gig, that was pre-destined. The sound was immaculate and the audience's reaction was ecstatic. We just may have started a little bit of Smokie mania in this country where we have only played a couple of shows in the same number of years. Already we have been made aware that there will be 2,000 people at tonight's show in Prague. The atmosphere is a little like what we experienced in the 1980's in Ireland when there were always many more people than the venue could hold and the fire officer used to follow us around on tour to make sure that we weren't contravening regulations. As if we would! One thing is for sure - we are in for yet another great night here in The Czech Republic.
Since Sony are releasing the 40th Anniversary album in Germany I have been asked to think of a title for Smokie's new album that is being recorded in the UK so they may refer to it in their advertising. A few ideas came to mind, like "Great Lives and Hard Drives", "Simply Us", "These Five Guys" and "One for the road", but the final vote was for "Just for the record".
Now we know what it's called we need to get back in the studio and record four more tracks. There are some good songs that came in from Nashville and I'm sure that some of these will end up on "Just for the record". I shall keep you updated once there are gaps in our tour schedule.
There could be a lot of disappointed Valentines in this region because Dublin appears to have saved its love for Smokie, and in Vicar Street of all places. It sounds like a marriage made in heaven. We entered the stage to a rousing reception that never died for the whole ninety minutes. A heady mixture of nostalgia and fresh material kept our audience keen and fired up. This was our second appearance in Dublin in the space of six weeks and there was no evidence that Dubliners had seen enough of us. The news that we were starting our 40th Anniversary celebrations in Ireland was received with great enthusiasm. It's been an inspiring start to what promises to be a highly gratifying year. Now I hit the ground running as I prepare for the next leg in The Czech Republic.
I'm sure, if I look closely, I would be able to find my own footprints outside The Mount Errigal Hotel. My experiences here in 1988 are still vivid in memory. It looked completely different then, as did I. Our packed house last night was reminiscent of the crowds we always pulled in the 80's, except they, like us, have mostly racked up a few years of experience. Nothing stops the Irish from dancing, even in confined spaces, and they rewarded us with a proper Donegal welcome. The passing of time has failed to fade either the band or the audience and together we turn a concert into a party. We'll do it once more tonight.
Before we hit the Waterfront stage there was a whisper that the audience weren't as animated as last year. I always take this as a challenge and my considered reply was "they haven't seen us yet". The Belfast audience have always given us 100% and last night was no different. They start off warm and rise to nuclear hot by the end of the show. Perhaps we were just creating the mood ahead of Valentine's Day, but there was a whole lot of love out there and we just soaked it all up. We move on to a sellout show in Letterkenny on the actual night when lovers should be celebrating. On this day next month we will be on our way to Kiev. Now there's a place that is desperately short of love!
Sometimes you can be having TOO good a time and important matters (like updating the blog) have to step aside to make way for the continuous celebration. There are two good reasons why I was having such a good time - one is that I was in Ireland, where partying is a way of life, and the other is that my wife, Roz (a notorious life and soul of the party) was with me on this mini tour of The Emerald Isle. My colleagues saw me drinking alcohol for the first time since 31st December 2009 and I got the impression that they were amused by the result. It's not something they will need to get used to but I am really enjoying a break from the healthy lifestyle at present. I'm sure that 2015 will see me getting back to normal.
Our show at The Millennium Forum was a little bit delayed due to the late finish of the pantomime in the evening. Getting the show together was like starting a horse race after all the other horses had left. Chaos was the order of the day yet, once we hit the stage, our eager audience were with us from beginning to end. I think we were like the Christmas pudding and brandy to their main course - a great way to round off the meal. There has been much anticipation of our presence after our previous planned visit was pulled due to the roof of the venue blowing off in high winds. The only high winds on Sunday were probably provided courtesy of Brussels Sprouts, as we were enjoying calm sunny conditions that gave the lie to the claim that this would be the worst winter for decades.
Last night we entertained a very warm Irish audience at The Helix, the theatre belonging to Dublin University and situated in the Glasnevin district. Being the last show of the year, since our proposed engagement in Romania for New Year was not confirmed, it had a sort of end of school term feel and everyone put extra gusto into their performance, knowing that we will not now see each other for another six weeks. The audience picked up on the mood and gave it 100% (not 110% as is so often wrongly claimed in Britain's very staged X Factor TV show). It felt like one big party with friends and left us all feeling like we have properly celebrated the end of a terrific 2014.
As we take our break I wish to thank all our fans around the world for making this year so enjoyable for Smokie. We couldn't do it without you and, as long as you are still there, we will keep returning. Happy 2015!
Our audience at Svyturio Arena couldn't wait to get close to the band. Their early attempts to come to the stage were thwarted by security but, once they were invited by the band to move closer, wild horses couldn't have prevented them from doing so. And "Wild Horses" is what they got because it was in order to join us with some arse-shaking during "And the night stood still" that the main crowd surge occurred. After that point the whole audience joined the party and we had their unbridled attention all the way through to an ecstatic encore and a rapturous and raucous end of the show. That completes our successful tour of The Baltic States and now I start my 17-hour journey home, arriving in time to wish Roz a Happy 23rd wedding anniversary. I then have a whole week to make final preparations for Christmas before the family come home.
The lights of a thousand cameras twinkled as we launched into "If you think you know how to love me". It set a perfectly romantic scene in an environment that was made for Christmassy feelings - an ice hockey stadium with much of its ice still on show. In fact Zalgirio is much like the other arenas that we play on this Baltic Tour in that it hosts sports as well as music and theatre. Our audience were mostly seated throughout the show yet couldn't resist the temptation to get up and party towards the end; not surprising when you consider that there was only a two-inch board between their feet and a bed of solid ice. Yet it only takes the right music to melt the heart (but not the ice) and Smokie found the right notes to serenade a highly suggestible crowd. Now we make tracks for Klaipeda where we can enjoy a day to wander round Christmas markets before putting on one more show tomorrow.
There's something quite different about Riga today, compared to previous years - no snow, and not a flake in the sky. We are all quite used to the concept of global warming; we hear enough about it, but the practical outcome is very agreeable for a traveller such as myself. I don't need snow. Even my polar bear friends at Highland Wildlife Park don't see much of it nowadays. Yet winds whip up frequently and make a place feel colder than it appears. That's nothing that can't be remedied with a hat and scarf.
Riga Arena is a very familiar venue to Smokie. Our last two appearances there featured the symphony orchestra. It seemed a little strange to step onstage without them last night. However, the theme was a little different and our show was sandwiched between instrumental band Zodiac and Thomas Anders. The arena soon heated up with a large audience of Smokie-lovers. Before long you could have just imagined you were in The Bahamas. Music warms the heart and soul and heals sorrows and calms anger. It should really be prescribed by doctors, rather than all those dangerous, untested drugs with their unpleasant side effects. Music is completely safe and I see its wonderful effect on audiences all over the world. It has a magical effect on its listeners. I feel that I am part magician and part musician. Today we cross another border into Lithuania to spread the magic into another territory.
Our Eastern Bloc Arena Tour kicked off with a performance at Saku Suurhall Arena, most noted for hosting the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest. Fresh from our Indian tour we were dressed for the cold, biting Estonian wind. However, in all other ways the experience was very similar because we were entertaining a large and appreciative crowd. These four shows also feature Thomas Anders of Modern Talking fame. In theory our music is very different but in practice we make a very good combination for an evening's entertainment. Smokie are raw rock musicians while Thomas's brigade serve up a very cool 80's disco sound. Our audience responded very well to the whole package which we now take to Riga, Kaunas and Klaipeda. It's a very agreeable format to occupy us in this pre-Christmas period after which we take a two-week break to be around for the man in the red suit. Meanwhile I am searching for those last minute purchases that put a smile on the face when unwrapped on Christmas Day. I think Amazon may well be hearing from me soon.
...suggested that we may be back a lot sooner than we thought. I guess that it will take a while for the euphoria to die down after these two successful shows, and I'm sure our promoter will need some rest after this exhausting time, yet the memories we have all made are very powerful inspirations to do it all again. I am reminded of a comment made after our second tour of South Africa that "nobody has toured here three times so don't expect to tour here again". We have now toured South Africa nine times, broken all previous records and literally been adopted by that wonderful country. The feeling in India has been very similar and I am convinced that we have forged a long and happy association with this country.
My Indian adventure has easily been the most exciting experience of 2014. It's been a marathon of travel with a wealth of experiences from beginning to end. It certainly wasn't the opportunity to put on shorts and get a winter tan because I have been at high altitude for the whole of the week. At over 4,000 feet it's been like living up Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain. The scenery is breathtaking and I have witnessed it from the road and from the air. I have walked in roads where there is little or no pavement and taken chances with my safety in order to properly experience being amongst the Indian people. What a great group of people they are; they look out for each other and exercise tolerance on a scale that could be used as a lesson to others in our troubled world. Christians live alongside Hindus and Moslems and they respect each other. Even though the streets are crowded I see no evidence of people getting angry. It can be hard to make solid plans or keep to schedules here, but everything works out well in the end, and I think many of us could benefit from adopting some of the attitudes of the Indians for the sake of our health and for our relationship with each other.
From the police escort and fleet of Royal Enfield motor bikes to the whirring of the chopper blades over scenic mountain ranges, this week has created a veritable biography of memories. The roar of the crowd and the apparent love that these gentle folk have for Smokie music warms and humbles the heart. As I tread the dusty roads people say "Hello, Sir" as we pass. Yes, they have manners. They also have dignity and pride. There appear to be far too many roadside fruit stalls, and it makes me wonder who is buying their produce; but there is no "hard sell" and no attempt to inconvenience you. Everyone here wants a photograph with you. Whole families appear from little hidey holes at the roadside and there begins a long photo session that takes in every permutation of the assembled family with the catchphrase "Just one more". It's impossible to refuse these lovely people and I wouldn't wish to do so.
As for their behaviour as an audience you only have to see how happy they are that their favourite band, Smokie, finally made it to their area. They were treating it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the rumours going round at last night's after party in the policemens' mess (contd)
At the press conference that preceded Smokie's appearance at The Hornbill Festival it was clear that people were aware of our last engagement in Assam's Mizoral District in November 2006 and were still talking about it. News travels far and wide in India and there was even some degree of transference between Kohima and Shillong as the public tried to get tickets for one of the shows. At The Indira Ghandi Stadium the tickets had officially sold out but more tickets had been printed to accommodate the demand. One thing was for sure - it was going to take the best efforts of the police, the army and our security outriders to get us past the huge traffic jams and into the performance area in time for the show. There were shades of Mongolia about this wholle experience. An audience of 25,000 people mostly arrived in some sort of vehicle and the roads couldn't cope with the traffic. As for the show, it was an unparalleled success as we took the audience through a potted history of our hits from the beginning to present day. Their roars were those of a massive football crowd and their appreciation was unmistakable. Even the Chief Minister was there and was happy to tell us how much he enjoyed the show by inviting us to breakfast the following morning and showering us with gifts. For a band that just likes to go out and entertain a crowd it is an overwhelming accolade. We are hugely privileged to have made this type of impression on a whole nation such as India. If the current success is anything to go by it will not be as long as another 8 years before we return. In the meantime we have our final engagement to look forward to before we make tracks in the westerly direction.
What is a party? One definition is "a group of people gathered together for pleasure" and yet another is "a band of people associated temporarily in some activity". Last night saw the coming together of some of the best in the business, i.e., Slade, ELO, T Rex and Smokie, to entertain an enthusiastic crowd at Arena Nova. To call it one of the best gigs of 2014 still doesn't quite do it justice. When a party at the end of November is this good it means the run up to Christmas is likely to be a great highlight of the year. The old advice not to peak too early has no relevance in this instance. My observation here is "peak as much as you like, as often as you like and see what reaction you can illicit". Clearly we wrung out every ounce of enjoyment from our happy audience in this part of Austria, and it makes me think that we will be passing this way again some time in the not-too-distant future.
It's always fun to surprise people. When the curtain rises the surprise is revealed and we can get on with the business of entertaining. Our hosts were celebrating their wedding anniversary and had invited a large number of people to their hotel in Faaborg to join the party. By the time Smokie hit the stage the guests had already enjoyed 7 hours of eating, drinking and entertainment. It was our pleasure to round off the evening and get them on the dance floor to shake off that post dinner fatigue. The evening ended on a high note with many happy faces. The surprise element had worked and, no doubt, it won't be long before we spring another surprise on a crowd of unsuspecting guests in the future.
History has a way of repeating itself, and no more so than in the music business. Familiarity is no bad thing in the crazy world of rock and roll, and in Kvaers (pronounced Kwares) we are made to feel so at home that we might wonder if our real home is not here in Denmark. Last night's show exceeded expectations as the huge crowd completely filled every square inch of Kvaers Hallen. The energy from the crowd was awesome. We could easily have shot a very excellent DVD from this location last night. After the show we moved on to a "secret location" from where I am writing this blog. It has to remain secret because it's a corporate show with surprise guests. As with all corporate events it is extremely well organised and well timed. More about that later. In the mean time I shall hide away in my room and catch up with downloaded programmes on BBC iPlayer until it is safe to leave the room. It is rather like being Father Christmas without the beard!
The auditorium of The National Palace of Culture, in the heart of Sofia, made a perfect location for the recording of tonight's show. Spacious as it is, there was ample room for a 10-camera recording with full 24-track audio without hindering the view from the audience. Live recordings can sometimes run into difficulties, but this one seemed to go without a hitch. The crowd were well into the mood of the show and gave us a huge response. This was our first appearance in Bulgaria since 7th May 2006. The show will be broadcast in December on Bulgarian National Television. This completes a busy 10 days that has included a Norwegian Tour, a show in Bucharest and one in Sofia, as well as the 12 flights that got us to and from our destinations. One look at our tour dates for December will confirm that we are still one of the busiest international bands on the circuit. And now we get a little more time at home before resuming in Denmark in November. Enrick Studio is missing me, so I'd better go and give it some love.
We have gazed out at this impressive auditorium many times before in different guises - as a sole performer, with an orchestra and as part of an entertainment package (as was the case last night when Bonny Tyler was also on the bill). Never before has the term "bring the house down" been more apt. Smokie appear to have carved a very deep niche in the affections of our Romanian audience. If the critiques are true to the event they can only report that there was a very special reaction to our show at Sala Palatului. The old building felt very familiar as we took our positions on stage. Everything about the evening said that Smokie really belong here. What a great evening for consolidating our performance before the TV recording on Friday. Meanwhile we have time to go and freshen our clothes and enjoy home cooking for a night. Well, it's better than staying on the road without a break. Even the most dedicated of artists needs occasional home comforts to replenish waning energy.
I'm a country dweller myself and I know how much "heart" there is in country people. When they work they work hard and when they celebrate they do so with equal vigour. It's fair to say that last night's audience were the most animated on this short and very enjoyable tour in the south portion of Norway. The Kulturhus is a lovely building and a great asset to the folks in this region. The stage is at floor level, so there is no distinction between the audience's level and that of the band. This means that, when people get up to dance, they are almost touching the microphones at the front of the stage. In spite of this there were no close encounters and no broken teeth, just a large number of people enjoying themselves responsibly. After the show we met one of Norway's Smokie tribute bands, Smokey Sound, who we chatted to for some time. It was a great night and a perfect finale to a very successful tour.
The sun was shining as we hit the outskirts of Skien (pronounced Sheen, a bit like that household cleaner). It was in contrast to the almost constant rumble of thunder in the vicinity of Gardermoen Airport. It may have been an omen that predicted a very good night at Ibsenhuset. Whatever the case, we had an audience who were ready to get out of their seats, away from their tables, and shake whatever assets to which they were attached. From the dramatic start of Boulevard to the carefree end of Alice they partied like there is no tomorrow. Luckily there is because I am still here. Now we move on to Notteroy for the last in this bijou tour of Norway. Let's see if tonight's audience can top the enthusiasm of their counterparts in other regions. We'll be watching!
Not even the frequent sound of thunder or the overhead planes from Gardermoen could distract from one of the best rock and roll gigs of the year. The Ullensaker Kulturhus looked resplendent and the audience complemented the band with their vigorous responses to our requests to join us in the singing. It was an unusually energetic display for a Thursday night. By the time Alice showed up the crowd were fully experienced professional singers. If the bus was big enough we would take all of them with us to Skien. Thank you to the people of Jessheim and those who travelled far to see the show (one person drove 600 kilometres to be there last night). Tonight we will experiment further with a slight variation in the set list to incorporate another song which may feature in the Bulgarian TV recording.
Drammens Teater was full to bursting with an enthusiastic and mature Smokie audience last night. They were in the mood to rock and had a great repertoire of songs from which to choose. Nestled on the bank of Drammensfjord, the theatre is a very beautiful building after its restoration back in the 1990's. Our set list is growing and changing as we approach the recording of the live DVD in Bulgaria next Friday, so our Norwegian audiences are helping us to test variations in the running order. So far the response is just perfect. These four shows are situated reasonably close geographically and allow us to avoid those long and exhausting travel days that test our mettle. It's good to have this opportunity because we will soon be back on the airlines to keep those air miles looking healthy. Tonight we return to Jessheim where another full house waits to hear how Smokie are sounding. Let's see if we can make enough noise to rattle the foundations at Gardermoen Airport.
Last night had the feel of an Oktoberfest celebration. In fact it wasn't and had more to do with gardening than raising steins of beer but the overall atmosphere was the same, as was the decor. Smokie returned from holiday briefly to perform this one show in Germany before resuming with more free time at home since the Malaysian tour was postponed until next year.
There's nothing wrong with a bit of free time, especially during this unseasonably warm September.
This is a good year for bike riding and fitness in general for me and I hope to continue that trend right up until Christmas. Perhaps a visit to my studio may start a new Smokie project; and there are always new iPad apps that make my task as band orchestrator even easier.
Much to do and never enough days. Such a busy life, but what fun!
A massive crowd, in excess of 40,000, thronged Hauptplatz this evening, celebrating their final summer festival with great enthusiasm. The return of warm weather helped to bring people out on to the streets in great numbers. They were in need of a party, and that's what they got - Smokie style.
There were a great number of young people in the audience and many of them were familiar with our songs. It is heartening to see so many younger people enjoying our music. Long may it continue and keep Smokie on the road for another generation.
I should mention that the Malaysian shows have been postponed while the country goes into mourning for the victims of flight MH17. It is proposed to delay the shows until March next year when people are once again able to feel ready to move on from the tragic event.
Now Smokie take a month's break and a chance to spend time with families before once again getting back to gig mode for the autumn and winter. Thanks to all our fans for making touring such fun and giving us such great support in our live shows. There will be much more to come in future. This is a runaway train with no brakes, so stay on the train and we'll just keep on doing what we do.
I managed to take a good look around Kuldiga before the show last night and was very impressed with what I found. The architecture is beautiful and the waterways give the town a real touch of the country. The waterfall is particularly lovely. My scene was set from early in the morning, after a 3.00 a.m. arrival. However, this didn't put me off hitting the pavements for a few ambles round the town to check it out. The venue for Kuldiga LiveFest 2014 is an amphitheatre set in parklands - a great combination. We shared the stage with Brotherhood of Man and Abba Mania, and the whole program went down extremely well. After the show we met the lady mayor who presented us with a commemorative copy of the town's tour book which, weighing in at 2.6 kg is a fairly lengthy read. There is more to Kuldiga than could possibly be gleaned in a day. We have just one more show to go before we take a break, and I feel as fresh as when the year started.
The Irish love a good old sing song, especially when they need to divert their attention away from the cares of the world. In this case it was the arrival of Big Bertha, the remains of the hurricane that is ready to envelope Great Britain in the morning, that was the object of attention. Of course, we were dry and happy inside our marquee at the Rock the Point Festival and were totally engrossed in having a good time. The weather can wait for now. The festival has lasted from 2nd to 10th August and ends with the crowning of the Maiden of Mourne. By the time she has accepted her title we will all be safely back in our homes if Big Bertha will allow. I am just waiting for the hurricane that bears the name of Alice. Perhaps it will disappear, although not after 24 years.
Smokie's aerial adventures have taken us to three Scandinavian countries today. Our routing took us from Malmo in Sweden to Alborg in Denmark, then from Alborg to Moss Rygge in Norway and onwards to Grebbestad in Sweden. Our Cessna Citation 3 made very short work of the journeys, leaving us with plenty of spare time to relax and take it easy between shows.
Vesterhavsrock in Fjerritslev was a repeat performance for us as we were there just two years ago. The steamy conditions and early afternoon start made it a very hot gig with a very receptive audience. Getting people to rock early on a sunny afternoon can be a tall order but the crowd had no trouble reciprocating. It was a brief stop-off yet a great show that confirmed our popularity in Denmark.
We left the arena at Fjerritslev at around 3.15 p.m. and headed back to Alborg for our second short flight of the day. There was only time to climb to 26,000 feet before we immediately started our descent for Moss Rygge Airport. An accident on the motorway had involved a horse bolting from its box and resulting in severe damage to a vehicle, but our onwards journey continued without delay. We reached the beautiful Tanumstrand in Grebbestad in the early evening and had a few hours to recover energy before taking to the stage once more. I felt as if this was the first show of the day, not the second. A big crowd greeted us and made us very welcome indeed. Our mini Swedish tour ended on a high with thoughts about what to do next year. These four shows have been enormously successful and we can build on the reputation of the "three S's" in future. For Smokie it's really nice to work with other bands and keep touch with our friends. Rock and roll is not only about playing music, it's also about connecting with other people, as the theme in "The Code Within" depicts.
Our return to Ystad was greeted with great excitement by the enormous crowd. This time it was in fine weather, which is in contrast to the downpour that greeted us in 2006. The audience layout was quite different to last time and took advantage of the courtyard area that made an excellent auditorium. Big crowd, big noise and everything that makes a great gig. After a brief night's rest we are off to Denmark to begin our bi-national double gig. It will be a Citation jet that whisks us away to Denmark and back to Sweden for the evening show. That's what Summer is all about for Smokie.
The castle ruins cut an impressive outline on Borgholm's horizon viewed from the marina. As night falls a huge colony of bats take to the sky. The floodlights complete the scene and Borgholm is ready to rock. Another capacity crowd enjoyed what we have to offer on our mini Swedish Tour for the glorious summer of 2014. What a pleasure it is to be able to make good use of this historic site for the making of music. The castle walls, no doubt, had many stories to tell; tonight, however, belonged to music fans. What a great way to bid farewell to July and welcome in August. There are more castle ruins to come tomorrow night and an even bigger crowd to greet us. Things could hardly be better!
It is nine years (and seventeen days) since Smokie last came to Hotel Tylosand. Those years have passed liked the blinking of an eye and it is always a surprise to find out that events that seem so recent turn out to be longer ago than we imagined. Time goes very quickly when you enjoy yourself and, since enjoyment is our privilege, I have to conclude that time will continue to pass at least as quickly in the future (probably more so). That means that every show is precious and needs to be savoured. It is not too much to expect when we have such eager audiences as the one that filled Solgarden last night. The balmy night air and lovely sea breeze kept everyone alert and responsive and they showed us that they were really enjoying and making the most of every opportunity to join the party. We were living in the moment, and that is what turns a good gig into a great gig.
The torch flames burned around the fringes of the auditorium in the grounds of Tambacher Schloss. The manicured gardens looked superb against the sunset that followed a hot and steamy day. Our view from the stage was impressive as we looked at a sizeable crowd amongst these historic battlements. In the past these walls were designed to keep out the enemies but last night they served a different purpose.
Castles are meant to be used, enjoyed and paid for (the upkeep is enormous) and what better a way to do so than to put on a festival? As the low rumble of our opening sequence shook cups and plates inside the Great Hall there was anticipation amongst the audience. It would be a pity to miss the opportunity to enjoy a bit of drama in such settings, so we made sure that everyone present was aware that something was about to happen, and happen it did. Smokie brought a show to an area that has great connections with our own royal family because Coburg was the home of Prince Albert who married our Queen Victoria. What inspiration we had for our performance! Rarely does such a scene provoke such feelings of pride and belonging. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be in so tremendous a setting doing exactly what we love to do. Luckily we are alive in 2014 and not 1814 when I think our presence would not have been so welcome.
A big crowd lined the approach road as our security escorts led us into the amphitheatre at Polva Intsikurmu. At this point it was clear that the audience would still be arriving at the scheduled time of 21:00 hours. The show was delayed for twenty minutes to allow everyone to get inside the venue. It was clearly worth waiting because the viewing area was full as we took to the stage. A low rumbling bass note preceded the opener, this being a new addition to our latest version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Our Estonian audience were on very good form, giving us the warmest of welcomes and treating us to some very animated applause, cheers and responses. "Hasta la vista" has never sounded better. As the light faded the stage lights started to have real impact as the show approached the climax. Our Estonian promoter described it as the best show he had ever seen; a very great complement indeed and, judging by the audience reaction, I think there were many people who shared his opinion. Our return to Estonia is assured so keep an eye on the date sheet for next year's engagements.
A sea of sunglasses faced the stage as the audience at Midsundfestival were dazzled by the evening sun, still hot at 9.30 p.m. There was no need to warm up the crowd as they were completely ready for what Smokie had to offer. It was another wonderful night in a watery location with a great number of sailing vessels on show. As chance would have it our previous appearance at this festival was also on Saturday 12th July six years ago. Many people remembered that night and were determined to repeat the experience. The Norwegian part of our summer schedule is now completed and we turn our attention to some of the other Scandinavian territories. If we could be in two places at once we surely would. Perhaps science will have an answer for this wish at some future time.
There was a veritable sea of sun-kissed faces under the Sparkassen rooftop in Papenburg this evening. The full moon completed the effect of adding perfect conditions to an already perfect occasion. The breeze helped to cool an otherwise sweltering evening and kept the energy levels up for both band and audience alike. This Classic Rock night is a tried and tested format that works so well both for ourselves and Sweet. I can't imagine anything that could make the evening more successful, so I'll leave you with that impression and give my good wishes to Germany's football team for the final on Sunday. All of Smokie will be taking notice of the result from our various home turfs.
Radio Nora's first Summer Party attracted an audience of over 8,000 people and took place at Strand Eckernfoerde, overlooking the sea. A great scene for a party and a sure-fire success with the assembled line-up. Earlier thunderstorms cleared in time for Smokie's slot at 10.00 p.m., and the audience were totally prepared for a party by this time. The audience were rocking, the raised VIP area was rocking and the cherry picker swung groups of three people above the stage for an aerial view of the proceedings. Summer is in full swing and there is so much going on around the auditorium, making our view from the stage one of great variety. It was as good as summer shows get, and there are plenty more to come. Next week we return to Germany and Norway for more great summer celebrations. How lucky are we?
It's a big surprise to find a venue the size of Sysco Arena just outside Haugesund in Norway. It would be like having a sports hall in my own village in The Highlands. But it was no mirage and neither were the audience who attended with one sole purpose - to have a really good time. The sun was still bright and hot as we left for the show after 10 p.m., reminding us that we are far north of The Equator in the land of the midnight sun. Not even the World Cup could detract from our show at one of Norway's finest rural venues. With so much summer to enjoy there is much to look forward to, and our travels take us a little further south next week to Eckernfoerde in Germany. And now it's back to matters of the garden, especially if the sun is likely to keep breaking through those clouds and making my corner of Scotland such a perfect holiday destination.
Where is the ideal place to spend the longest day of the year? I suggest The Sankthansfest in Skarnes, Norway. Admittedly the overnight temperature plummeted to a wintery 6 degrees, but that was after all the fun was over. The circular theatre filled to capacity in minutes after we struck up with the now very popular opener "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Nostalgia played its part, of course, but there were very many youngsters who were not born when our 1980's hits were dominating the Norwegian charts. If the trend continues in Norway there could soon be another generation of Smokie fans who are flocking to listen to a group of 70-year olds putting the energy of 20-years olds into their live performance. We are still asked the same question we were asked 10 years ago - "how much longer will Smokie last?" The answer is written in the hearts of our devoted fans. One thing is for sure, after last night's show, and that is that you do not even have to be a Smokie fan to enjoy the atmosphere created by the live show. It's all about human beings connecting with each other, and there can never be too much of that.
Most of the audience at Havnetomta were probably not from Lillesand, which is a favourite holiday destination in this part of Norway. It's as pretty as anywhere you will find in this beautiful country and it's no wonder that it is so popular. When you combine the desire to be in a lovely place with the urge to go and listen to a band that inspires you it sets the scene for a really great night, and that's exactly what we had. The evening cooled down rapidly yet the audience were as warm as you could ever wish and extremely loud in voice. After a show with such a great response I feel absolute contentment.
Tomorrow we board the train to Oslo, a journey I look forward to very much. It's a rare opportunity to take in scenery from a different perspective and a nice change from rattling around on twisty roads.
The town of Drobak, alongside Oslo Fjord, noted for its year-round Christmas Shop, was well prepared for Smokie last night. It seemed like some of the audience had even been rehearsing the songs before the event. There was no shortage of energy coming back from our keyed up crowd. The challenge was to match their enthusiasm with lots of our own and, of course, we delivered as planned. It's a great feeling when seemingly a whole town gets behind you, including the guests at a wedding who were unable to make it to the gig and yet were still singing "Alice" as we approached our hotel. With the Sun shining and boats carving their way through Norwegian waters it was an idyllic scene of summer celebration. There is more to come, but not next weekend because we have some time off to celebrate Fathers' Day in the UK. That's something I rarely got to do when the children were young. It could end up being more like Parents' Day, and that will be something to really cherish.
It is unfortunate, but I have had to remove my Guest Book as a result of abuse from unwanted visitors. Why they chose to use my website I cannot imagine, but there is no way I can reinstate the page at this time. For genuine visitors who wish to leave a comment please use the reply section in my daily blog and I will answer you. As always I shall keep you updated on all Smokie matters and anything to do with Key Note Music.
Summer was in the air in Lindas where the Westland Hotel played host to Smokie. Although the performance area is not large it was filled with an audience who had definitely done their breathing exercises before the show. Nostalgia swept through the crowd as we opened with our now well-tried version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". The hits just kept on coming, leaving the punters on a real high that proved to be a challenge as we tried to exit the stage through the auditorium at the end of the show. Sometimes people just don't want you to leave because it means the end of a great night. There will be many more of those to come but last night shall remain in my memory as one of the best nights in Norway so far. Now let's see some more of that midnight sun.
I am able to confirm, after last night, that a party in a brewery is as near a guaranteed success as is possible. The fact that we were at Maisel's Weiss Brewery and that the weather was perfect made the evening an unmitigated triumph. The temperature soared inside the building, causing us to melt on stage, but in a good way. Hot gigs can be a real pleasure and do, at least, provide some evidence that we have worked last night. The audience kept pace with us from first to last and the evening dissolved all too quickly. Now the Sun is back in The Northern Hemisphere it's time to really enjoy those outdoor shows and make the most of them before it turns round and heads south again.
Next stop Norway for the whole of June. I can almost smell the fresh sea air already. Let the adventures begin.
Never before have the words "Hasta la vista" been sung with such gusto as last night at The Retro Festival at Lucerne's Hotel Schweizerhof. That was no whisper, believe me. And the voices behind the response, those of our supercharged audience, continued to bellow out the words to all their favourite Smokie songs for the whole evening. They were with us every step of the way. Not only was this an extremely dynamic evening on stage, but the entertainment continued after the show when Phil Dankner invited us on to a more intimate stage for a special introduction to each band member. Phil had done his homework and knew a lot of interesting facts about everyone. He brought up my website on screen and asked me about "The Code Within" and also played part of "The Healing", which drew a very favourable response from band and audience alike. And then my baby picture came up on the screen. You've seen it if you have looked at the Gallery on this website, but somehow it had the effect of bringing out the parental instincts in those who were gathered. It was a precious moment and I felt honoured to share it with so many people. Our whole experience while in Lucerne has been a very good one and I hope we might return in a couple of years to this same festival. If the comments from after the show are anything to go by I think it's more than likely that we will be back.
I have put a trailer on YouTube so you may sample the tracks from this newly released album.
Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXVVPAnVeeI&feature=youtu.be
Interpack's Trade Fair at Dusseldorf's CCD Stadthalle was a surprising event for me. I cannot recall such an enthusiastic reception by an audience at a corporate event before this occasion. The suited gentlemen and well-dressed ladies were in their best party mood. It seemed like the menu of entertainment was exactly what they needed to let go and have fun. The room was packed to bursting as Smokie hit the stage and every song was greeted with equal vigour. A busy VIP area awaited us as we left the stage and we carried on partying with the crowd once Kool and the Gang got into the groove. I shall never look at packaged goods in quite the same way again for I now know that inside everyone's hearts in the packaging industry there is a frustrated rock and roller or air guitarist. Thank you to all our audience for making the night an unparalleled success.
Check out the latest date sheet to see where Smokie will be playing in your neighbourhood. We're even taking bookings for 2015.
Now, here's the good news. My surgeon has given me the all clear to take to the airways once more and I shall not need trains again for my European engagements. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the adventure of going from Inverness to Paris, from Paris to Stuttgart, from Stuttgart to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen to Inverness by train. It was a necessary part of the healing process and showed me an altogether more pedestrian pace of fulfilling my Smokie obligations. FlyBe, here I come!
I missed my blog yesterday due to my current travel schedule which demands that I leave very early to catch the train to the next gig. The snail's pace is OK for a change but I really do appreciate getting there a lot faster on airplanes. Friday night found us back at Stadthalle in Metzingen, a venue we first played in 2006. The place was heaving and roasting hot. Perfect for a Smokie gig! Stuttgart was enjoying some warm summery weather during the day and an impressive thunderstorm in the evening that helped to keep our audience inside the building. This was our first show in Germany this year and it seemed like the audience were more than ready for us. I couldn't resist the temptation to seed Mike with the idea of "Metzingen Girl". It seemed too good a semantic opportunity to miss.
A late night led to an early morning and a train to Hamburg followed by a train to Copenhagen. I arrived in time to leave for the TV Show "Charlie I Parken", filmed by TV2. The stadium was packed and our live performance of six songs fairly lit up the place. There was an emergency announcement, an hour before we were due to perform, that urged us to vacate the building in a hurry. However, most people didn't hear the call and it turned out to be an error. The show will be screened next Saturday night.
After a day of relaxation in Copenhagen (finally) I start my five-train journey home from Copenhagen to Cologne to Brussels to London to Edinburgh to Inverness. It has been an adventure and I only wish I had looked out the window more often. The advantage of being on a train is that there is scenery to enjoy rather than cloud formations, but I mostly miss what is outside because my head is buried in my iPad. That's the magnetism of technology and all its entertainment. Frequent flyers know how important gadgets are to our lifestyle; they become even more important when we have extra time on our hands. I hope that my surgeon will give me clearance to get back above the clouds on May 11th, otherwise I shall be stopping over in Europe for a week. Experience is a good thing as long as it is not repeated too often.
I was discharged from Raigmore Hospital in Inverness on Saturday after having an emergency vitrectomy. At present there is very little vision in my right eye, but that will improve in the next week or so. I am unable to fly at the moment so I shall be taking trains, taxis and ferries for the next few weeks. At least my vision was saved.
And to think that I fired an AK-47 while having a detached retina! Well, that's my excuse for not being a very good marksman. Back to Easter preparations and lots of consolation chocolate (very important for a convalescing musician).
Just before my visit to Russia I put the finishing touches to "The Code Within". I wanted to live with it for a couple of weeks just to make sure that it all sounded good, and I am really delighted with the results. I hope you are also able to enjoy this relaxing album. It's now on iTunes and I shall also put some clips on YouTube.
In the meantime I have to go to hospital in the morning for an operation on a detached retina. Once I am out and recovered I shall be ready for some more Smokie adventures as well as a chance to celebrate Easter with my family.
An explosive day ended with a happier bang in the form of a fully attended show at Metalurg Concert Hall in Izhevsk. Having learned earlier about the town's reputation as the primary munitions manufacturer it seemed like too good an opportunity to be missed, so I took up arms for a short while and tried my aim at a harmless target. I was surprised by how light the AK-47 was and how little kick back there was on firing the gun. It was an experience to be savoured and one that I am unlikely to repeat. Being more of an archer myself I am not primarily attracted to using firearms, but I am happy to give it a go.
It took no effort to warm up our audience in the evening because they were already well primed for an evening with Smokie. The auditorium looked great under the lights of hundreds of mobile phones during "If you think you know how to love me". Our first appearance in this part of Russia brought out the emotion in many of the people present. We say farewell to Russia and I embark on a four-flight 21-hour journey home. Now I can look forward to spending Easter with the family and feeling the benefit of some more Spring-like weather in contrast to all the snow and ice I have just experienced.
I shall also upload the completed album "The Code Within" to iTunes during this next break.
Happy Easter to everyone.
"What can I do?" is like an anthem in Russia. The audience go in to a frenzy during this particular song; it has been adopted by Russians because of the mistaken reference to vodka. It's like playing "Whiskey in the jar" in Ireland. There is, of course, a natural affinity for songs in minor keys in this part of the world, so "I'll meet you at midnight" similarly goes down a storm; yet it is still "Living next door to Alice" (in a major key) that really lights up the place, as it did at Kosmos Concert Hall last night.
After a day of braving the Siberian winds it was good to get back to playing in a warm venue. I love the contrast between the two and I would never pass up an opportunity to take a walk in my locality to see what's there.
Today is another travel day after which we finish our tour tomorrow in Izhevsk. Let's see what adventures we may have before we hit the final note of the final show. Russia is truly a land of surprises.
Ogni Ufi fairly resounded to the sound of Smokie as its concrete facade sent the melodies back round the room again for a second enjoyment. It's not only for the excellent cuisine that I like this quirky gig but it also captures a special atmosphere that's rather intimate yet, at the same time, expansive. It's like being in Doctor Who's TARDIS. There are parallels with Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge" because of the appearance of the stone-like scenery. The raised stage is very rock and roll. All in all it's a deceptive gig that never fails, even though there are invariably huge technical issues that make putting on a show difficult. However, the end result is very pleasing indeed and no-one needs to know the effort that goes into putting on a show when, in fact, the show turned out very well.
Today we move on to Ekaterinburg where we can enjoy another evening of relaxation before hitting the stage tomorrow.
Very many memories were stirred by my arrival in St Petersburg on the SAPSAN train from Moscow. Russia always makes me nostalgic; maybe it's because there have been so many experiences as a result of Smokie's adventures in Russia. The one thing that cannot change here is the architecture because all the buildings were built to last and are constructed with a single theme. There are no ugly modern monstrosities in St Petersburg centre, only the traditional style of buildings that ooze great beauty. Of course, as you venture outside of the city there are business retail parks with the same outlets you will find anywhere in the world.
Our venue, DK Lensoveta, cannot change. If we will still be touring in 20 years it will look identical to how it looks today. We, however, will not. Only one thing is for certain about Smokie - you know exactly what you are going to get when you come to one of our concerts. The basic construct of the show cannot alter because the set is built around the 12 hits that made the band famous in the 1970's. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year it is clear where our popularity lies. We can return to the studio on a regular basis and record more songs just to keep the act fresh but, no matter how good those songs, they will never hold up against the classic hits.
Our audience were totally receptive to our hit-packed show that was shortened due to our urgent dash to the airport to catch the midnight plane to Ufa. I feel that we left the punters very satisfied with what they heard last night. I have only one regret and that is that we were unable to share a few moments with our die-hard fans after the show due to our frantic schedule. At least we were there, and so were they. It was another great night in a country that stirs great memories.
We started our Russian Tour this year at Crocus City Hall in Moscow. I was impressed by this building when we first played there in April last year and that feeling has never left me. With a massive stage area there is room for a hundred people on horseback. Smokie fill the room with a rather different vibe, following on, as we do for the next three shows, from The Illegal Eagles. Their mellow presentation sets a calm mood before we take to the stage and take the audience through our catalogue of hits. It's a great combination and they are a fine bunch of guys to work with.
Our time in Russia is rather short, ending next Sunday after only 5 shows. But it's not the quantity but the quality that counts, and I can promise a very good evening of music that will surely rekindle the happiest of memories from our era of music creation.
Tomorrow we move on to St Petersburg and a day off with all the opportunities it entails in such a fabulous city. As always there is much to look forward to and plenty of time to make the best of our free day.
Perched in the middle of Fintona is the Equestrian Centre that was the venue for last night's Shamrock Festival. Because it is Paddy's Weekend there were a lot of green hats on show as well as other green items of clothing. It made a colourful display and was a little like looking out over fields from the stage. The festival hosted six bands, five of them from Ireland and ourselves. As you might predict there was an almighty reaction to Alice - the song that has now become an Irish theme tune. I would say it's as popular as "It's a long way to Tipperary", or "Whiskey in the Jar" on The Emerald Isle. That concludes our Irish adventure for now but we have yet to return late this year to honour the cancelled Derry gig, wind permitting.
After a short break we resume our 2014 tour in Russia where, no doubt, there will be much to interest us at present.
I am very happy with the final result of this piano piece. It sits very well in "The Code Within" and is thoroughly romantic. It has inspired me to create a whole album of piano pieces once I have finished this project. There are just too many ideas in my head and only precious time within which to complete the recordings.
As I listen to the final master I realise that it is exactly twenty years ago today that I arrived in Scotland to search for a new home. What a great twenty years it has been. My life has been an adventure, full of exciting experiences and completely fulfilling. There is much more to come yet, of course, and I shall savour the next twenty years.
Since I am not entertaining Swedes today, as I would normally be at this time of year, I took the opportunity to get back in the studio and record the eighth track, titled "The Healing", of the album "The Code Within".
This album has been a most absorbing project, providing me with a blank canvas on which to create moods and melodies. The music is entirely inspirational, relying on my ability to put myself into a creative mode that takes me completely away from thoughts and distractions. That's quite a tall order when there are so many natural distractions in our lives. It is sort of akin to a trance-like state, only a little more in touch with my surroundings.
I feel that the music is not entirely my own composition because it's as if I have received it from outside of myself. I believe strongly in the existence of enlightened beings as well as feeling sure that our own physical bodies are surrounded by a light being that is our own, wiser version of ourselves. When in contact with this light being we become much more knowledgeable and strong. Hence, the melodies are generally grand and moving.
Once I have recorded the ninth track, titled "Connected", I shall upload the whole album to iTunes. Then my project is complete.
You may remember that, at the beginning, it was my idea to break the artwork into 9 pieces, each one representing one track. Later I decided that it was better to reveal the whole picture. I am happy with that decision and hope that you like the final product when it becomes available.
How quickly do twenty six years pass? If you don't look closely your children grow up in secret and suddenly turn up as adults. Of course, the opposite is true for me because I am speeding towards my second childhood. At least someone in the family has grown up, even if it's not me. You are familiar with the Peter Pan Syndrome whereby artists appear not to age that much. I honestly believe that the music business can keep you young if you take the required precautions, i.e. going easy on the alcohol and taking all opportunities to sleep as and when they emerge. I can look back over the past twenty six years and say that I have many really happy memories. Music is its own reward - the awards are not necessary, although very flattering. Age is merely a number to which I attach very little significance. In two years' time I shall be sixty, and I expect that I shall be touring just as hard as when I was 50. But for now I shall be ironing my clothes because I am not on tour this weekend by a strange quirk of fate. I think I had better enjoy whatever time my schedule allows me to relax because 2014 is going to be quite busy. Happy Anniversary to me!
The GAA Centre is a very hot place indeed when it is full of people, and last night it was completely jammed. Smokie's absence from Tullamore for nine years has left the audience hungry for our music. The crowd were with us from the first note to the last; a better reaction would be hard to find. Our frequent returns to Ireland are showing us just how much heartfelt support we have amongst the Irish. Now we can look forward to a weekend off before returning once more to play The Shamrock Festival. Thank you to the Irish for always being there for us, even when the disco craze looked like it would do serious damage to the live music scene. I am happy to say that live music is still valued greater than the pre-recorded variety. As long as that is still true Smokie will be in existence.
So many memories were stirred by our appearance at Limerick University's Concert Hall last night. My enduring memory from the 1990's is that the whole gallery was opened so that some of the audience were behind us, resulting in our having to turn round from time to time to acknowledge them. In another sense last night's audience were one hundred percent behind us, even though they were in front. You see, I've only been in Ireland for a day and already the Irish logic comes into play. In clearer terms, it was a fabulous night with a wonderfully rowdy audience that gave us such a warm welcome. I have often said that an Irish audience that is on form is the best audience in the world, and this is still true. The best parties begin and end with the Irish people and they, thankfully, take their party habits with them wherever they go in the world. This small nation makes an unforgettable impression everywhere on Earth. I wonder if I shall meet any Irish people in Papua New Guinea? If not, I shall be disappointed.
Jolly Joker in Ankara is by far the biggest of the jokers in the pack. With bars delicately shaped like guitars and keyboards and a massive dance area it is bigger than the other two put together. That is why filling the venue is such a success, particularly as we only played it in May last year. Our audience were gathered close to the stage right from the first note and they were keen to join in the fun. Even the balcony spilled over with late- night revellers with a good knowledge of Smokie songs. It was a fitting crescendo to our bijou tour of Turkey. Now I am on my 18-hour journey home, having left the stage to go to the airport. I don't know of many airports in the world where you can check in at 2 a.m., so Istanbul takes the crown for that particular claim. Now I can enjoy a Sunday at home before preparing for the Irish dates next week. There's never a dull moment in my calendar.
If you fill a room with as many people as you think it holds and then add a few more you have Jolly Joker in Istanbul. Situated just a few hundred yards from Taksim Square, the scene of so much drama recently, it is a musically themed bar with shades of Hard Rock Cafe. My favourite feature is the lift that brings the band to a balcony overlooking the stage. As the door opens there is a huge response from the audience who are waiting for our performance. Only dramatic music and a cloud of smoke would make it more like a pantomime entrance by Alladin's genie. My only regret about this venue is that the roof of the stage is so low that I cannot stand properly to play the keyboard. However, that's a small detail when compared to the joy that we bring to our Turkish audience, all of whom appeared to be having an absolutely wonderful time. The mood spread from the front to the back of the venue. Outside the yellow taxis swarmed like wasps in the summertime. The streets were heaving with people and the screens monitored football matches. Istanbul is a lively place, but today we move on to the capital, Ankara, which has quite a different feel.
For my own part I shall be leaving from the stage tonight almost directly to the airport for a 04:25 flight. I shall be saving my energy for that all important last Jolly Joker of the week. No matter how exhausted I feel I shall write my blog from somewhere in the world tomorrow because it is for you, the reader, that I create a daily impression of what touring is like with Smokie. Thank you for reading.
It was out with the old and in with the new at Jolly Joker in Antalya. I remember well the first version - I still have the T-shirt. The latest incarnation has all the same decor as well as a special atmosphere that is characteristic of the venues in this chain. Because of its newness it hasn't yet captured the size of audience that we find in other Jolly Jokers but it is still early days. One thing that never fails to impress is the warmth of theTurkish welcome. Our select audience rose to the challenges Smokie put to them, i.e. to sing and dance as requested. That's not too tall an order considering that's what they expected.
The unseasonably warm weather helped to put a glow on the band's faces, causing everyone to look in good health. With two more Jolly Jokers to play on this mini tour I expect to see a lot more Jolly as well as a few Jokers.
There was little time to prepare for our show at Hala Vodova in Brno. From the airport we rushed to the hotel for a quick meal and a shower before returning to a packed venue with no chance for a soundcheck. Those are not the best conditions for gig preparation; however, the show must go on and, with the help of a very excitable crowd, it was a doozy. From the floor to the upper levels of this sports hall, that is home to winning netball teams, the audience rocked with Smokie. I often explain to people that, after travelling all day, our own energy resources are depleted. We therefore rely on the energy of our audience to drive the gig along. It's a two-way transfer that works with great success and keeps the excitement going. Last night was the third show in a row that proved to us that our popularity is as great as it ever was, thanks to our wonderful audiences around the world.
Today we travel all day to Antalya in Turkey. As luck would have it there is no gig tonight but perhaps the rest and the sea air will help to revive flagging energy levels.
Our Irish audience could not have put on a better display of singing and dancing if they'd been paid in Hollywood. You've seen it in films like "Titanic" where the door opens and there is an almighty party going on. Well, that was Vicar Street last night. It was like there was a deep need for everyone to really let go and have a good time, and that's exactly what they did.
To get that type of reaction on the second gig of the year is very precious. There was surely some magic in the air, and it's magic that I would like to see happen again soon. With many gigs to go this year I may see it again and, when I do, I shall report it once more. Onwards and upwards, for it's only February.
After a shaky start to the weekend, that involved the roof of St Columb's Hall, Derry blowing off in a gale, we were given the biggest and heartiest welcome by the people of Belfast at The Waterfront. An unexpected day off in Belfast did no harm at all and enabled me to ease back into the touring routine with no pressure at all. Not only did we play to a full house again but the date for next February is already confirmed, as well as the one for Vicar Street where we are due to play tonight. It's great to know that our popularity in Ireland has remained so constant over the years. The Irish people have always been here for us and they have, as you may know, helped to revive us with the version of "Alice" that has attracted the attention of our younger audience since 1993. I am grateful to the Irish for their loyalty as well as their party spirit. We are due to return to The Emerald Isle a few times this year and I very much look forward to every appearance.
I have finally managed to get back in the studio to create the seventh track of "The Code Within". It's called "Breathe" and it revolves around a 3-5 breakdown of a standard 4/4 bar running at a very slow 26 beats per minute. At this speed you can't help but relax. The 3-5 part is aimed at encouraging you to breathe in for 3 beats and out for 5. After a short while it becomes natural to do this as the heart beat prompts you to follow its rhythm. If you fall asleep during this track I wouldn't be too surprised. I often did so during my early attempts at meditation. My aim is to relax you and take you away from all the cares of the world. I shall upload the full version of "The Code Within" later this year.
Luke and I have been beavering away to create this jazz funk piece, Spider, that I wrote back in 1983 - and a fine job he has done too!
A long journey to Galati via Bucharest was rewarded many times over by my experiences at the New Year's Eve Street Festival. Firstly we were presented with the key to the city of Galati by the mayor, Marius Stan. He said it was an honour to have Smokie in his city and showered us with other such compliments. After a brief sound check it was clear that it was going to be a very cold night; but nothing warms your heart more than the sight of 20,000 people waiting for your performance. As we drove to the stage Michael Bolton was nearing the end of his show. We all gathered onstage for the arrival of midnight, fireworks and champagne. Our two bands merged into one as we drank in the atmosphere. Lanterns were set free in large numbers and the air was charged with the smell of recently-spent fireworks. The atmosphere was so electric that it seemed like it would be hard to follow the celebration with another performance. But the crowd were ready for us and wanted to keep the party going regardless of the intense cold. It was the perfect way to see in 2014. Watching BBC later, it was clear that there were very many big parties last night, but ours would have to rank as one of the best. Happy New Year!
What a great night at Deakin's Costa Hall, and what a great way to finish this Smokie Australian Tour 2013. The jokes were running thick and fast and each of us found items of amusement as we took to the stage. Steve had a pair of gaffa-taped leeks next to his drums, I had fruit on my rack and Terry's "beer" turned out to be water. It didn't stop there for, as we re-entered for the electric set, there was a totem head on top of a microphone stand. All good stuff, and the audience were in on the jokes. It didn't in any way detract from the performance and the audience were quick to tell us how "awesome" they thought the gig was. Our whole tour has been a success and it's been such a pleasure to be back in Australia.
Now it's time to turn my attention to matters at home and spend some much needed time with my wife, Roz. It's been a long tour but a good one and I have every reason to feel very satisfied with the results of this last 10 weeks in Norway, Denmark, South Africa, Germany and Australia. One thing is for sure - we are very lucky to be so popular in such a varied list of countries. I think we will be busy for many years to come. Now I can really get that Christmas tree up and wait with a shovel for the first snow of winter.
It's been 22 years since we were in the beautiful city of Adelaide. I remember it well because I got married soon after the 1991 Tour. It's good to be back and it was great to hear all the comments from people after the show. There were a lot of vinyl records to sign and a large number of CDs were presented for autographs. Clearly our audience want us back as soon as we can make it. Her Majesty's Theatre fairly resounded to the sound of the audience tonight as they joined in with the singing. It's a truly uplifting experience to have a room full of people singing at the top of their voices. Now there is just one more show to go before we start the long journey home. One day the orbiting aircraft will get us there in an hour and a half but, for now, we'll have to settle for a much more leisurely pace.
As the ticket sales soared, the management at Wrestpoint Casino decided to move the venue to a bigger room which then sold out. There was nowhere bigger for Smokie to play. What a great situation to be in on our first visit to Hobart. Needless to say, our packed out room was filled with very enthusiastic people who had waited a very long time to see Smokie for the first time. It is so refreshing to hear peoples' first impressions of the band, especially as they were so full of complements. Once again they want reassurance that we will be back. I think they can count on us returning since we are the promoters and can make the final decision concerning where we play next time we are in Australia. But everyone has said they want us back, so how do we choose? As usual, there are not enough days in the year to fulfil all of our requests, but at least we can satisfy some of them.
Not only was this Smokie's first time in Tasmania but, just to add to the excitement of our initial impressions, we were forced to vacate Princess Theatre during soundcheck as the smoke machine had set off the fire alarm. Within moments the sound of sirens echoed around the streets as the fire engines made their way to answer the false alarm. But noise was the order of the day; our first Tasmanian audience were so loud that my in-ear monitors were distorting with their shouts. There was no need to ask whether they had enjoyed the show because they made that very clear. The audience just about wanted it in writing that we will come back. How can we refuse after such a great night? I am loving my first time in Tasmania and I look forward to Hobart tomorrow.
Last time we were in Bendigo the rain thundered on to the roof of Bendigo Stadium with such intensity that the PA was nearly drowned out. Last night was quite a different story; it was altogether more serene and laid back, yet the audience were just as animated as they were in 2010. The acoustic set showed off their singing abilities, thanks to the two cover songs at the end, and the electric set showed off their dancing abilities. All credit to the two guys who unashamedly shook their butts during "And the night stood still". There was plenty of good humour both on and off stage. Our signing session was, as usual, an absolute delight because we got to hear all the lovely comments people make about the show. We say goodbye to the mainland while we head for Tasmania. I am particularly looking forward to this trip as I have never yet been to this part of Australia. I am hoping to see some of the beautiful scenery that, so far, I have only seen in photographs and films.
We were greeted by our noisiest audience to date and told that people in Albury like to party. They are proud of their position "on the border" and they are not afraid to get out of their seats at a rock concert. Upon recounting that our last visit to Albury was 23 years ago I spoke to a girl who was there, aged 14, sitting on her father's shoulders at The Woolshed. It was good to see a mix of age groups at tonight's show. What has worked so well for us in other parts of the world is that the young generation have picked up on our music. If this happens in Australia we can be assured of many years of touring in future.
A refurbished Enmore Theatre once again welcomed us through its doors. Backstage was altered to great effect and the auditorium looked fresher and roomier. That's good when it comes to getting the audience out of their seats, and our Sydney audience were happy to oblige. The well-honed acoustic set was received with great enthusiasm and the electric set really set the audience in motion. Enmore Theatre was the setting for our final show on the 2010 Tour whereas, this time, we still have six shows left on this 2013 Tour. There's still a lot of excitement to create and fun to be had on stage, as well as quite a few miles to travel as we go from New South Wales to Victoria to Tasmania to South Australia and back to Victoria again. That's how we do Australia because it's a big country. Well, we are used to big countries and air miles. It's all part of being in Smokie.
A huge crowd greeted us as we edged our way towards the merchandise stand at the front of Civic Theatre. "It's been 23 years since our last appearance in Newcastle", I said. "No it hasn't, you were here 7 years ago at Belmont Sixteen Footers", came the reply. "Oh, I didn't realise that Belmont was so closely associated with Newcastle". Well, it is, and it's good to be back in this part of New South Wales - a mere two and a half hour drive away from Coogee Beach. The audience clearly loved what they heard and are up for more of the same as soon as we can arrange it. The story is the same everywhere we play - "please come back soon". Merrell, our radio presenter, was in raptures during the show. After announcing us she took her seat in full view of the band and clearly thoroughly enjoyed the evening. She did admit that she plays a lot of Smokie on her radio show and was really looking forward to hearing the band live. With this kind of support how can we fail to have a really good night in Newcastle? Now the sun is actually shining (no hailstorms today) so I shall make the pilgrimage to Bondi in my "Did Yer Do?" outfit (see YouTube). It could be the ideal day to pack the kite as I have all day to amuse myself, there being no gig tonight. Thank you to the wonderful people of Newcastle!
We blew in to Tamworth on a weather system that gave Sydney a good soaking and pelted it with hailstones the size of tennis balls. Rattles of thunder heralded our arrival at Tamworth Airport. This is the home of Australian Country Music; our motel features a huge gold guitar that clearly indicates the favourite musical genre for this region. It was the perfect night for our Nashville songs - the "Wild Horses" medley and "And the night stood still". Smokie are well represented in the Country stakes and our audience appreciated what we had to offer. Now we transfer back to Sydney for a couple of free nights before our next show on Tuesday. Time to be a beach bum for a while and tread the boardwalk for a few miles. How I love those free days!
Brizzy really turned on the charm today. Not only did it present us with a clear blue sky and blistering heat but also there was a heavily sold gig at QPAC. It's a magnificent venue that was greatly enhanced by our Piccadilly Circus backdrop that, incidentally, covered up the impressive 64 foot organ pipes behind the stage. The audience were ready to party right from the first note, which made our part in the evening a breeze. From burning shoulders to a red hot gig it was a day to remember. Our intention to record the gig was made a little impractical but, had we been able to take the opportunity, tonight's gig would have made a very satisfactory live album for the archives. Perhaps tomorrow we will get another opportunity once we reach Tamworth, the home of Australian Country Music.
A bit of flooding and a few thunderstorms are not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of our Toowomba audience or, for that matter, any other Australians. In a country where fire and flooding are to be expected the people stoically move around as if nothing has happened. I see people patiently waiting for traffic lights to change while dripping water from every part of the body, yet there appears to be no inconvenience caused. That helps to explain why our capacity crowd at Empire Theatre last night rose to the challenge in such a magnanimous way. Many had seen us three years ago and were recounting stories of our last visit. Lots of people agreed that "we were even better this time". It's great to get such comments back from the audience, and that is one of the pleasures of meeting them after the show. Only half of our evening is about entertaining people; the other half is about talking to them afterwards. Some entertainers miss this vital contact with their audience and, I have to say, they are missing out on a veritable pleasure. Tonight we can look forward to another big crowd at QPAC in Brisbane.
Just recently there was a fire at Brolga Theatre that caused an evacuation of the building. There was still some evidence remaining but, otherwise, it was business as usual. Our announcer informed the audience that "there are no fires tonight, but we do have Smokie". This set the tone for what was due to be a great night in Maryborough. There was dancing soon into the acoustic set, and that's something we haven't seen anywhere else in Australia. The audience were in a good mood and they were determined to make this a special night. The compliments ran thick and fast after the show and we were made to promise that we will return. That's not a hard promise to keep because I think we will definitely be back in three years.
We're getting some good hearty laughs on this tour. That's not to say that we are specially playing for laughs yet comments like "Australia, I would die for you - except during the Ashes Cricket Test Match" are going down extremely well. The news that Mick had been issued with a speeding ticket and had then been breathalysed also drew something other than sympathy. The truth is that our audience at The Pilbeam Theatre arrived in a state of high spirits and we just gave them a little shove over the edge. Rockhampton on a Sunday night turned out to be an awesome place to play. I wondered how well they had recovered after the enormous flooding that occurred after our last appearance in 2010; it seems that Australians take fire and flood in their stride; it's part of life over here, as are Smokie. We have really marked our place in the history of Australian popular music and it is making touring very pleasurable. Now we can enjoy a day off in Maryborough. For me that means doing some more laundry and catching up with some paperwork, but I expect I shall also walk several miles as I explore parts of Maryborough that I haven't yet seen.
They came in large numbers, the people from the mining town of Mackay. They knew all the words to the hit songs and they were not shy in joining in, standing up, singing and clapping. Their combined energy drove the band like a nuclear powerplant. A good night? Oh, yes, and once again the people from Townsville said "Why didn't you play in our town?". Perhaps we need to take that request seriously since we had already heard it said in Cairns. Our audience are willing to drive long distances to hear us; they tell us they would have driven twice as far to see Smokie. We are the lucky ones. With thirteen shows to go we are surely on a roll here in Australia. Rockhampton, we are coming to rock you.
The temperature was tropical and the audience were just as hot. Something happened to my keyboards somewhere between Perth and Cairns and I learnt, just an hour before the show, that they weren't responding. Finding an alternative at short notice was a challenge, but it happened and the show proceeded with enormous backing from our enthusiastic audience. They were up on their feet early in the show - a sight that is rare here in Australia since it is generally discouraged in the theatres in case peoples' views are blocked by those who wish to dance. Cairns really rocked, and the answer to their question: "Will you come back?", is an unqualified "Yes". See you next time in this beautiful location.
To play a gig on Melbourne Cup Day is to take a huge chance. The country literally comes to a standstill and everyone has either a television or radio close to them. I was drawn into the excitement that accompanies this world-renowned horse race and fashion parade. I didn't pick a winner and neither did most people (otherwise the bookies would be complaining) but I thoroughly enjoyed the process of checking out the horses and making my decision. Meanwhile, a few hundred people made the decision to come to Queens Park Theatre in Geraldton to continue their celebration with Smokie. During discussions with the audience after the show I discovered that there are some ardent fans living in this part of the world. Several vinyl albums were offered for signing, and it's a pleasure to see these reminders of our early days once more. Loyal fans deserve our attention and it was good to be able to spend some time chatting with them after the show. Our visit to Geraldton may not have drawn the biggest crowd (as mentioned in the beginning of this blog) but it did draw people of great sincerity and integrity. A return to this part of Australia is vital so we may keep in touch with the fans who will undoubtedly buy a ticket as soon as they know that Smokie are in town. Let's party again some time in the future, but let's rest on Melbourne Cup Day.
Before we even struck the first note at The Regal Theatre there was a loud cheer from the audience. They were happy to see us back and ready to rock. Our acoustic set brought out the singing, especially when we launched into "I don't wanna talk about it"; then the crowd continued to sing all the way through "Will you still love me tomorrow?". Their reaction suggested that they were going to be even more vocal once we cranked up the volume for the electric set. Again they cheered as we struck up with "Boulevard of broken dreams" and continued in the same vein for the rest of the show. Playing in Perth was a bit like coming home; the venue is so familiar to us and the audience give us a huge welcome. It was possibly the best reaction of the tour so far, and that's saying a lot because we have had a great welcome at all of the four shows to date. Tomorrow we move on to Geraldton on Melbourne Cup day. My two horses are Foreteller and Voleuse de Coeurs. I shall be keenly watching at mid-day, wherever I happen to be at the time. Good luck to all those who have placed a bet. The whole of Australia will be partying and some of you will also be continuing the celebration with Smokie at Queens Park Theatre. We will see you there.
The prize for the noisiest crowd to date goes to our audience at Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. When we reached the "Hasta la vista" part of Mexican Girl they came back at us like a football crowd after their team has scored a goal. The climax of the show was magnificent and left all of us feeling thoroughly elated. It was one of those nights that you don't want to end. Thank you to our wonderful supporters for joining in the spirit of a Smokie gig and making this day special. Memories like this are very precious and they bind us all together so completely that I can really feel that special bond that connects all human beings. If you only ever experience it once in your life you will be lucky, but to have that chance many times a year is beyond lucky. Music is the drug - it's absolutely addictive and has no unpleasant side effects. I thoroughly recommend it.
The scribblings on the wall at Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre chart our many appearances at this great venue - 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013. It's becoming a habit, I believe. Matching our own dedication is that of the audience that turned up in large numbers to witness the latest chapter in the Smokie story. They quietly enjoyed the first set then noisily rose to the challenge of rocking with Smokie. In common with the audience in Albany their voices belied the number of people who were in the room. Australians are not shy in sharing their elation. Our second night was a huge success. I am eager to see how things progress from here. Tomorrow we move on to another of our favourite destinations - Mandurah. As we approach the weekend our schedule eases off a bit. Well, it has been a very hectic time of late, so a bit of respite will not go amiss.
That's the way to start an Ozzie Tour - with a packed house and a noisy crowd. Our first time in Albany was a great success. The Entertainment Centre, an interesting piece of architecture itself, was the venue for a great night of celebration in an intimate environment. Inside it was very hot indeed. I was happy to find a laundry room after the show where I could spin dry my clothes so they are not soggy tomorrow night. The hottest nights are some of the best. We couldn't have been given a bigger welcome than we had in Albany, and some of those same people will be at tomorrow night's show. There could be a slight change in material tomorrow so I can say that those people who have already seen us will hear a variation in the programme. It's always good to keep the audience keen and fresh. I hope we may experience a similar reaction in Bunbury as in Albany. Our audience have a lot to live up to.
Our tour came to a glorious end at Stadthalle in Bremerhaven. It was hugs all round as we bade our farewells to bands, technicians, production agents, catering staff, drivers and all. The final show put a finishing shine on what has been a very successful tour. The audience showed us an enormous welcome as we took to the stage. It has been a pleasure to be part of such a well planned enterprise and also to play a run of shows in Germany, where we haven't played more than a couple of shows at a time for a few years. The Smokie legend is alive and kicking in Germany and we could easily spend half our year there just fulfilling the demand. Now I take a quick break at Manchester Airport before heading off to Sydney via Abu Dhabi in the morning. A bit of downtime won't go amiss as it was impossible to sleep during our very short time at the hotel last night before leaving at 2.00 a.m. At least I shall be able to watch the coming storm from the comfort of my hotel room and just relax for a bit. The next few days will test everyone's resolve.
Friday night always heralds in the traffic jams, or "stau", as they call it in Germany. Sitting in heavy traffic, it was clear that we would have only a very short time once we reached Aurich; yet most of the gear was in place before we arrived. A short sound check was enough to prepare us for a fabulous night at Sparkassen Arena. The audience were warm, the venue was warm and the stage was like a freshly-heated oven. A good recipe, then, for getting everyone in the right mood. As we baked on stage the crowd melted in the auditorium. The hot gigs are some of the best ones. Getting warmed up is what it's all about, and it was a memorably warm night. There is just one more show to go before we have to bid farewell to all those entertainers who have become part of our lives for the last ten days. It's been a proper roadshow with all the laughs and cheeriness that goes with spending all day with old friends. Next we cut loose and do it all on our own, as usual. It will be a while before we share the stage with others again. I have to say it's been a great pleasure and, next time the offer comes our way, it's a "yes" from me.
Pulling up outside Stadthalle in Chemnitz brought back memories of shows we played here many years ago. It's been too long since our last appearance in this city and we were made very welcome indeed by the capacity crowd. Our show has matured to the point that it runs like clockwork and everyone is happy with the results. Tomorrow's journey to Aurich will be even longer than today's, so it is a 6.30 a.m. start for me. Life on the road is, after all, mostly about travel; and then we get to the good bit!
It was show number 6 tonight at Osnabruck Halle and Smokie were still squeezing more out of our performance. We are gearing up for next week's Australian Tour, rehearsing during the afternoons for the acoustic set. This 35-minute Oldie Show helps us to keep the playing tight and the mood upbeat. It's been a great way to ease into a longer set on a longer tour. Now we can look forward to some long drives and packed houses at the weekend. The extra hour in bed on Saturday night will mean little to us as we will be flying at 6.00 a.m. on our way back to the UK for 24 hours. It's all go in this business - at least until December 2nd.
It was an unseasonably warm 21 degrees today and it made Emslandhallen rather hot in the evening. However, our seated audience were more than happy to stand up and join in with the sweating. I felt fresh from my day off in Bremen, having taken in the sights of the city several times yesterday. Tonight marked the first show in a run of five that will see us doing some fairly lengthy journeys towards the back end of the week. Every opportunity to rest needs to be taken, especially as we have a tough schedule once we arrive in Australia next Tuesday night. I take one day at a time and prepare for whatever touring has to throw at me. It's all about survival; and Smokie know a lot about survival.
On the basis that each show has been better than the previous one, this one at Stadeum Kultur und Tagungszentrum was the best so far. The venue was smaller, charming and more intimate. Our audience reacted together as they rose to their feet for "Don't play your rock and roll to me". The connection between band and crowd was almost tangible. It's been a pleasure to be part of a tour that takes in some varied cities, some of which we haven't seen for a long time. Now we have the luxury of a day off (office work and laundry day) so I may catch up with a few important matters outside of touring. A small breather is rather necessary because, after today, there will be little chance to catch my breath until 3rd November. I may even try to start a new video for YouTube. It would be interesting to make it while on the road. Let's see what arises once the sun comes up.
Lokhalle in Gottingen is a big venue with plenty of natural reverb. A soundcheck in such a venue tells us very little because it needs people - lots of people to absorb the reflected sound. And that is exactly what we got - lots of people with their party moods. Our 35-minute set flashed by in an instant and suddenly we were taking our bow at the end of the show. It's clear that everyone wanted more, but the onstage timings during this mini German tour are crucial. The show runs like clockwork now because everyone knows exactly what they have to do. This is one well-oiled machine that churns out hits like hot cakes from a bakery. As with all successful formulae there is talk of the next tour already. Let's stick to the formula and do it all again. I'm happy to do that.
What did I say about weekend crowds? Well, there was no disappointment at all at Stadthalle where the audience were on top form. A longer show gave us the opportunity to really build a set that reached a big climax. The crowd were with us every step of the way. After two shows the sound settings are just right and that inspires confidence for the next 7 shows. All we have to do is go onstage and enjoy ourselves. That works for me!
I was reminded very much of the UK Arena Tour as we took to the stage tonight at Halle 39. Our 35-minute set certainly packs a punch and ends an evening of hits served up by some of the best in the business. It's a winning formula and it looks like being a successful 9-day tour. It's always a pleasure to work with other bands; we spend so much of our year on our own in diverse countries. In Germany the formula is different and it works very well. It's been a strong start to the tour with a Thursday night audience who gave their all. If this is the standard then I can't wait to see what happens at the weekend. Whatever the outcome, I very much look forward to all the rest of the shows.
Our South African Tour deserved a big finish, and that is exactly what it received. It was destined to be a party night because, win or lose, the South African people had the rugby match against New Zealand on which to focus. The atmosphere was overwhelming around Carnival City. Even the projector screens in the venue showed the game during our soundcheck so that not a moment was lost. I felt as if I was South African for a day. Our audience have made us feel so welcome that it would be hard to get a better response.
With all its dramas this mini tour has been one to remember. From exhaustion to elation on a daily basis to exploring nature and enjoying some chill time, we have had the best that this beautiful country has to offer.
It's always the people who make a tour special, and South Africans have a knack of ramping up the hospitality to the maximum while showing that they are having a really good time. Our final show at Carnival City's Big Top Arena could not have gone better. The talk after the show at the media event was that it was over too soon and they wanted Smokie back as soon as possible. I shall accept their invitation - that is, as long as its OK with our promoter, Frans Swart.
We now have a couple of days to rest before heading home and preparing for Germany and Australia. There are many phone interviews to do for the Ozzie tour, so it will be a busy few days that will mostly be spent preparing for the next chapter in Smokie's touring diary. But first we must say a proper farewell to our hosts over dinner tomorrow night. There may well be tears, but we will return.
It just feels like coming home. Nothing changes around here. Our poster graces the wall of the green room, advertising the Smokie that comprised of Alan Barton, Alan Silson, Terry Uttley, Steve Pinnell and myself. We are now celebrating our 20th anniversary of our first visit to this wonderful country. The show we played tonight varies from the one we played in 2011 in subtle ways that appear to have gained us an even more ecstatic reaction from the audience. Our promoter, Frans Swart, said in his speech that this is the best he has ever seen the band. Something magical happened tonight that elevated the show beyond its usual horizon. Have we peaked too early? Tomorrow is the last night of the tour and it is usual to pull something extra out of the bag on such an occasion. My hope is that the show is at least as good as it was tonight. Only time will tell, and I shall be telling you exactly how it plays out. It's been an exciting tour with many stories to tell. I look forward to the last chapter.
I've never ridden an elephant before, so today was a valuable opportunity not to be missed. Not only did I ride one, but I fed the animal afterwards and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Regardless of their huge size they are big softies really (you only have to look at those long eyelashes) and have a natural affinity for human contact. One thing that impressed me is the way that they either avoid the brambles or push them back with their ears so we don't get spiked as we ride through the forest. They have very coarse hairs that are very prickly against my legs, causing a little discomfort during the ride. Also it's important not to sit too far back as their spine protrudes and feels like a broken bedspring. All in all they are wonderful creatures. A great day, a great experience and a great height from which to view the beautiful countryside.
Phew, I can finally sit down and write a blog. Appearing in Cape Town while the Springboks played Australia was always a risky venture, yet it paid off handsomely and the auditorium at Grand West Casino looked very good from the stage. The audience were in high spirits after The Springbok's decisive victory, so it was easy to "push them over the edge" and into celebratory spirits. Sport is a big priority in this country and, as we have discovered, so are Smokie.
We moved onwards to South Africa's "windy city", Port Elizabeth, to play a matinee show yesterday. The pressure was on, after arriving on the morning flight, to get the show together on time. With no time to spare we hit the stage at 15:10 and encouraged the crowd out of their sleepy Sunday afternoon mood to get rocking like it was Saturday night. The formula worked and brought out the best in the audience.
It's been a hectic 4 days and now we take a break, during which time I shall be beachcombing and visiting the Addo Elephant Park. Spring in South Africa can bring some fairly good weather and today the mercury will hit 21 degrees. Not sunbathing weather but very pleasant for a seaside stroll.
Since arriving in South Africa my feet have barely touched the ground - hence the late blogging. After barely an hour of sleep in Trondheim I started my 24-hour journey to South Africa via Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi. Due to a computer failure at Trondheim Airport all luggage was manually tagged all the way to our final destination. Unfortunately, and quite predictably, not all luggage arrived in South Africa and some is still missing and unaccounted for.
I was allowed a couple of hours in the hotel room on Wednesday morning before starting the day's promotion. Once the promotion was over the band and crew were taken to "Tribes", one of South Africa's finest restaurants, to enjoy a welcome dinner from our promoter, Frans Swart of Lefra Music Productions.
On the morning of The Aardklop Festival we changed hotels in order to be in place for the early flight on Friday morning. However, whilst loading and unloading the vehicle, Mike's carry-on bag was stolen (not an unusual event here in South Africa) and he lost his passport in the process. More about this later.
We have played The Aardklop Festival in Potchefstroom before, but this time the attendance figures were much higher. A large crowd gathered before we even had a chance to sound check and were thus treated to listening to Smokie rehearse for the first show of the tour. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" had been requested so we dusted off the cobwebs and got playing it again. I have to say it goes down very well here.
Regardless of the fact that our own bass guitar, rhythm guitar and effects pedals were missing the show was received with great enthusiasm.
The drive back to the airport again left us with little time to see a bed and we were on the early flight to Windhoek, apart from Mike who had to go to Pretoria to get an emergency passport. Our own arrival in Namibia was marred by the fact that the visas hadn't been properly authorised and we were forced to sit in the airport for three and a half hours while the details were settled. Oddly enough the staff knew us by name and welcomed us to the country, but they couldn't let us in.
Finally we did arrive and had no chance to play with the sound before going onstage. When we did hit the stage there was a crowd of 8,000 people waiting for us in Halge Geingob National Rugby Stadium, and their voices sounded massive as they joined in with the singing. After several power failures and the need to leave the stage we returned to a modified power set-up that didn't fail and played a short set of ballads before launching into the rocky stuff. The compliments came thick and fast after the show. People had waited a long time to see Smokie's return to Namibia. Hopefully they won't have to wait so long for our next appearance.
Another short night preceded our morning flight to Cape Town where we are at the moment, having done another radio interview and a book signing on our way to the hotel.
It's a frantic pace at this end of the tour, but it quietens down tomorrow after the gig in Port Elizabeth. I'm off for an afternoon snooze before sound check.
I actually forgot this site's 6th birthday, which was on Friday. The result was that I forgot to renew lochnesscomposer.com and ended up having to put in a late subscription in order to keep it online.
All's well that ends well and here I am again with another year's subscription to my host, Mr Site. I think I can promise an action-packed year with the variety that only touring in 19 countries can provide.
The Autumn has started on a very high note with an audience who were determined to have a great party whatever the outcome. The sound of the crowd as Smokie hit the stage at Vendia Hallen in Hjorring was close to deafening. It's a fact that sometimes the show is carried by the energy that emanates from the audience. Last night was one of those nights and it was a great start to this leg of the tour.
Leaving home in September and returning on October can see us going through a variety of time zones and weather changes. From Trondheim at 11 degrees to Abu Dhabi at 39 degrees Celsius, there is little chance to properly acclimatise to my surroundings. This tour takes in Denmark, Norway and South Africa, after which there is a one-week break before touring Germany and Australia.
Smokie are as busy as we have ever been, and I feel very lucky that this is still true after so many years. Long may it continue.
Beautiful spa hotel, beautiful country, beautiful weather, beautiful location and beautiful people. What more can I say to give the impression of last night's concert at Hauptplatz in Furstenfeld? Sometimes everything runs according to plan and last night was one of those nights. There were no Gremlins in the gear, the heavens didn't open and there were no delays. In the textbook of touring that is an unusual type of day and one to mark in the diary. It is particularly good because it was the last show before Smokie's summer break. I feel like we have had so much summer already that it really doesn't matter if it rains now (as I am sure it may do in The Highlands). I wish everyone who has bought a ticket to see Smokie this year a happy holiday, wherever they may be, and I shall look forward to seeing you again and partying with you in the near future.
I spent the whole morning walking up and down hills in the mining town of Schneeberg, with its impressive buildings. It was impossible to get lost as I was either on one of the hills or in the valley. Everything in Schneeberg is visible if you view it from the highest point. A warm and sultry day threatened thunderstorms but cleared for the evening show. The venue was all under cover yet open at the sides - a good bit of planning if you can't be sure about August weather. It was good to catch up with T Rex again and have a bit of a natter before going onstage. It has been a while since we were this far east in Germany, but we will be back again in October just before we embark on the Australian tour.
The audience were more than ready for what we had to offer at the Silberstrom Oldie Party. It seems that they were well warmed up before we hit the stage and they were well prepared to sing themselves hoarse. That's a good thing really because you can't really carry off the Smokie vocals unless your voice is a bit on the gravelly side.
We have one more show to perform (our 44th this year) before taking a much needed break for the summer/autumn before starting all over again and doing another 36 shows before Christmas. Did I mention Christmas? Well, I had better start thinking about that soon because otherwise it will catch me unawares and suddenly appear when I am most busy.
I have one motto: "be seen and be remembered". Two things really do that for me at the moment - my odd boots and my very colourful shirt. Standing at the back of the stage I have to do something special if I wish to remind the audience that there are 5 people onstage, and this is my way of doing it. I have been asked many times about the story behind my two differently coloured boots and now there is some curiosity about the new shirt. It's good to occasionally make changes in the wardrobe department.
Bright clothes complement bright days, and that's exactly what we have had over the weekend. Perfect weather created perfect conditions for our shows in Varberg and Malmo and the result was a weekend that nobody will forget. We were made very welcome at the Folk Park by the several thousand people who were there. The audience moved as one as we sped through our hit catalogue. A seventy-five minute show is very punchy indeed and leaves no time for resting or taking it easy. Luckily the crowd still had plenty of energy regardless of the steamy temperature in the performance area. What a great weekend, and now the planning starts for next year's SSS tour which is due to take in 4 cities rather than just two. It's good to know that it has been totally successful and that we will be back in Sweden again next summer. Just keep an eye on those tour dates.
Today I had my first opportunity to take a look around Varberg. Each time Smokie have played at Societen we have bussed in from Gothenburg, so it was good to be able to get properly acquainted with the city, having arrived here last night. It's another beach story and Varberg has miles of rocky and sandy beaches to attract the holidaymakers as they spend their last two weeks in the sun before the children return to school. I committed a slight faux pas as I wandered on to a female nudist beach in the afternoon, having not seen any signs to indicate the nature of the area. Being unaccustomed to nudist beaches (I don't think we have any in Scotland) I was a little surprised at the reaction I got from one of the bathers. However, I found the seaside walk to be all I needed to recharge my Estonian/Ukrainian/Scottish suntan and so I carried on walking for a couple of miles until I ran out of walkways.
The gig at Societen was always going to be a good one after such a hot day. We played to our biggest crowd to date at this venue, following Slade and Sweet. It's a show full of hits with this line-up and we kept the crowd keen right until the last note. Tomorrow we move on to Malmo where we will put on the same show. It's good to know that we have a winning combination and I look forward to doing it all again.
It was a all sun, sea and surf in Odessa where Smokie made an appearance at a private beach party. Originally the party was in celebration of a birthday but that later became a corporate bash with the Eastern Bloc's favourite band headlining. We are getting more of these offers now than ever before and it is a great pleasure to be at the top of the list. It's not exactly a hard day when I can comb the beach and enjoy the sun from early morning and then perform a 60-minute show at 10.00 p.m. after a thoroughly relaxing time. The hard bit is the 17-hour journey to get home. But now I am here I have a weekend off. Next stop is Sweden on Thursday. I hope all our fans are enjoying this wonderful warm weather and having a chance to be outdoors. The health benefits will really show when we return to winter, so make the most of those sun's rays.
For the first time I crossed the border into Russia from Estonia and headed for St Petersburg. I had little information about the gig but soon found out that the company Rosan, who make motorised buggies, were celebrating their 20th anniversary and were throwing a party for all their employees on Fox Nose Beach. The sand was lavishly decorated with awnings, drapes, marquees and furniture (all covered in white fabric). A sizeable stage was waiting for Smokie's arrival, as were the expectant guests. I imagine they would have had an afternoon of corporate-type events, maybe punctuated by occasional jaunts on the beach in the above mentioned three-wheeler buggies. I would have been happy to do a little of that myself - I think it would be a lot of fun. As we took to the stage ten cheerleaders lined the dance floor and acted as motivators for the crowd who were, no doubt, a little full of food and drink. Smokie's one-hour set took the crowd through a rapid-fire collection of hits that enticed even the most reluctant of party-goers to join in the dancing. The view was magnificent and the audience and organisers were delighted. It all ended on a happy note, as you might expect. There will be more corporate fun on Thursday when we will be in Odessa for a birthday celebration and another one of those punchy one-hour sets.
Narva is as far east as I have ever been in Estonia. In fact, it's as far east as anyone can go because it is very close to the Russian border that I shall cross today to reach St Petersburg. Narva Castle creates an impressive backdrop for a gig, and that is further enhanced by the 1,000 shiny motorbikes that were parked near to the stage. There was a strong 'rock" theme at the castle last night. Smokie took to the stage as the light faded and we were able to enjoy the full effect of the lights. We were warned to be aware of the four fire cannons that had been used frequently for the act that preceded us; in fact they were never used during our set and, perhaps, that was for the best as the rain started to fall quite heavily around half way through our show. The audience gave us a rousing reception and remained excitable for the whole show. Our two-day summer appearance in Estonia has been a huge success and may well pave the way for more Eastern European summer shows in future. It makes a change from our usual routine of being mostly in Scandinavia at this time of year and indicates that there are many alternative places where Smokie are welcome.
How important is it to have all your clothes and equipment in order to perform a successful concert? It seems like it's not very important after all. As I took to the stage last night in Lohusalu I was unaware that the keyboard had suffered a recent breakdown and was refusing to send messages to the unit that is responsible for all my sounds. This could be catastrophic except for the fact that the show has to continue one way or another. If I can only find two sounds that work for the whole show then that is what I have to do. It means looking at the show in a different way and busking my way through the songs. That's not a problem because I am a natural busker. In fact it gives me a refreshing new approach to these Smokie songs and a chance to find out what happens to me when I am outside of my comfort zone. I have to say that I really enjoyed it; and it is just as well because I may have to do it all over again tonight in Narva since we are using the same equipment. Usually these type of technical problems arise as a result of using generators, as we often do at outdoor summer shows.
But it's the audience who really make these shows so enjoyable. They do not need to know if everything is not quite OK on stage, and it's our job to make things go smoothly even if we know that there are some hitches. As I looked out over the big crowd that had assembled at Lohusalu Port I was inspired to make last night the best possible - and it paid off because the audience were delighted.
Expect the unexpected in this business and you will not be disappointed. Now I just need to prove the point at Narva Castle. At least I have all my clothes this week!
My journey from Sandefjord to Aalborg was not without its share of drama as my suitcase became a casualty of Copenhagen Airport's industrial action, and it still is at the time of writing. However, clothes are highly over-rated and there are always alternatives. My biggest loss is my trademark odd shoes; appearing onstage in matching trainers just doesn't feel right to me. Yet a scorching day was followed by a crowded festival in Ringkobing, and that is a great way to end an adventurous weekend. Our audience were on fine form, as were the various biting insects that made their presence known under the stage lights. It's always a challenge to play and swat at the same time, but it can yield humorous results.
Today I make my way home via Amsterdam where I hope to catch some of the Wimbledon final. Who knows? - maybe my suitcase will be waiting for me in Inverness. At least I now have 10 days off at home and it looks like the heatwave will continue.
Did summer start yesterday? I think it did for most of Western Europe - and what a great start. Better late than never! I found myself back in Norway's own monster territory last night for it is in Lake Seljord that the creature has been spotted. They call her Selma over here (we have Nessie at home in The Highlands). What a perfect day it was because Andy Murray completed his excellent win just 5 minutes before Smokie hit the stage at the Seljord Festival. There appeared to be many more people in attendance this year than on our previous appearance in 2008. I do remember very well our first appearance at this festival on 8th July 2006 because it was my 50th birthday and 6,000 people sang "Happy Birthday" to me. But last night had its own special charm and our audience were well primed after a great day in the sun. It goes to prove that a bit of heat from our own Yellow Dwarf Star can do wonders for peoples' moods. The hot weather continues all the way to Denmark where we are due to play in Ringkobing this evening. This is summer at its best. Long may it continue! (an Indian Summer perhaps).
The National Automobile Federation (NAF) is Norway's equivalent of the AA (that's Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous). After a hard day on the racing circuit, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vålerbanen, our guests were ready for some entertainment. If they weren't already fired up our master of ceremonies did a great job of getting them out of their seats and onto the rain-soaked tarmac in front of the stage. The sky was finally clear and Smokie were ready to go at the happy time of 19:30. It was an early evening for us yet the end of a long day for the car enthusiasts. A racy gig followed an adrenalin-filled schedule and our audience were fully capable of one last burst of energy before calling it a day. It may have been a NAF gig, but it was surely a winner.
I am so used to looking at views of mountains because that is the sort of scenery that prevails in my locality in The Highlands. Yet Norway makes our mountains look puny in comparison. At 1,001 metres above sea level our venue, Storefjell Hotel and Resort, was as high as Glyder Fawr in Wales. But I couldn't tell that I was so high because I was looking at peaks that were much higher.
Our audience had obviously travelled to be in this remote location, there being few houses and no villages in the surrounding area. Some of them remembered our last visit to this venue on 7th July last year. I remember it well because I woke up to my 56th birthday on the Sunday that I travelled home.
The seating is clearly for cabaret yet we managed to turn the event into a rock concert. It took the audience a while to get used to the idea, because they generally like the comfort of their seats, but the show gained pace and ended on the usual high. There is no way we would send an audience home unsatisfied. Their final reaction was clearly one of happiness and they tried to cling onto us as we left the stage, demonstrating that they really wanted the show to last a bit longer. All good things come to an end and then another good thing follows, so watch this space for next week's Norwegian adventure.
My first impression of Israel, in 1992 before Smokie toured in this country, was how much greenery there is. As we travelled towards Haifa I could see a great amount of irrigation going on in the fields. Although the country is baking hot it benefits from the type of regular watering that would scare any British county with a hosepipe ban. Of course, we buy a lot of our produce from Israel, as may be seen in any supermarket in the UK. For such a small country it has a large output.
My second impression concerned the historical buildings and the stories they tell. I never cease to be amazed at the power of these structures to spark the imagination. I feel very privileged to be in this country for a third time and to enjoy everything Israel has to offer.
Last night's audience gave Smokie a very big welcome. Their message was clear - they want to see us more often, and it seems very likely that's exactly what will happen next year as plans are already in the making for some shows with an orchestra. It's good to see the schedule for 2014 starting to unfold already. I have always said to promoters that if you wish to be sure to get Smokie you may need to book early as our diary fills very quickly. In so many ways we are the luckiest band on planet Earth.
Ashdod is such an ancient city that there are references to it in the Bible. But there have been some changes since those early years, including the building of the lovely House of Entertainment, the venue for last night's concert. Our audience, a mixture of Russians and Israelis, were on fine form. Meanwhile on the rooftops there is some heavy sunbathing going on as disenchanted Englishmen mourn the late start of summer. There were a few red faces on stage last night and I expect they will be a little redder tonight in Haifa. Sun, sea and Smokie. Not a bad combination!
A beach party alongside a fjord is an event of great beauty, even if the heavens do open and continuously pour rain on the roof of the stage. Wet we may be, but our spirits are never dampened. Also it was a mere shower when compared to what is happening across Eastern Europe. The audience closed in and huddled together, united in their sogginess, and enjoyed a thoroughly good time. As water dripped from their noses they propelled the droplets with their energetic singing. There was spray everywhere as well as good cheer. How to make a damp audience happy? Sing them Smokie songs.
I expect I shall see quite a change in atmospheric conditions as I commute from Kristiansand to Tel Aviv this evening. That's what we call contrast and it's an enduring feature of touring. Now, I think factor 15 will do the trick.
It's been a while since we were in Bavaria in general and Munich in particular. This area has been mercifully saved the fate of so much of Europe that is under several feet of water at present. But grey skies could do nothing to dampen the spirits of our audience who were ready for a beer-swilling good time in German fashion. Dancing on the tables was obligatory and the crowd excelled at it. The night was over too quickly, as is always the case when everyone is enjoying themselves so much. We are just warming up for our October tour of Germany that takes in 9 cities. I hope that our German fans save some of their energy after Oktoberfest, for they have a lot to live up to if they are going to be as lively as our audience at Festplatz an der Jahnstrasse tonight. I anticipate some very good nights indeed.
Smokie are now accustomed to doing two shows in one day in two countries. It is part of our regular summer touring schedule. However, I have to say that yesterday's bonanza was one of the easiest of double shows we have undertaken in a long time. The whole experience was made painless by the flight that took us, on a Citation KLS plus, from Sonderborg to Ostrava. Our pilots did a fabulous job of avoiding thunder-troubled areas as we flew over stricken parts of Europe to reach our destination. We witnessed towering giants of clouds underneath which the population were getting a proper soaking. To say that we were lucky yesterday is a huge understatement. Our first show in Nordborg launched the day's festivities with massive success. The festival had been very well publicised and had drawn a big crowd. The clouds rolled away to reveal a hot and sunny festival day with a very convivial atmosphere. It was explained to the festival-goers that Smokie had a very tight schedule which meant that we had to leave very promptly after exiting the stage in order to make our slot time at Sonderborg airstrip. The crowd didn't want us to go and they made the most of every opportunity to wave us off and thank us for a great show. Had there not been a second show to perform it would have been great to just stay and soak up the atmosphere.
However, work is work and we had to leave the sunny Nord-Als Musikfestival behind and take the one hour and twenty minute journey to Ostrava. Flying at 41,000 feet we were able to pick up some speed and land in good time to board our Lincoln limousine for the supremely hospitable McLimon Hotel in Novy Jicin. That was just the start of our Czech experience and things got even better as the evening unfolded. The crowd that waited for us in Novy Jicin had already worked themselves up to a frenzy before we hit the stage and their reaction to the show was sublime. Every song was greeted with huge roars of appreciation. They were, perhaps, our loudest crowd ever. It makes me feel like we should be in this country a little more often in order to meet the very obvious demand for our music. At the end of the evening we were each presented with beautiful travel books and tricorn hats by the town's mayor and then we were each given stetsons to represent the town's close association with country music. Needless to say, anything we played from the "Wild Horses" album really lit up the place. This is the capital of country music for The Czech Republic.
What a fantastic day. Touring doesn't get better than this, and it doesn't seem to have drained my energy since I am able to get up at 7.30 a.m. and write this blog. Today we move on to another possibly damp part of Europe (maybe we will be the lucky ones again) by flying to Munich for our concert in Unterfohring tomorrow.
Did Yer Do? is now available on iTunes and other online stores. I have included it as part of an EP, the track listing of which runs like this:
1. Did Yer Do?
2. I like what I see
3. Just press "send"
4. Can't beat rock and roll (featuring the voice of Alan Barton)
5. My dad's stronger than yours
The EP is priced at £3.95 or you may buy individual tracks at £0.79.
After receiving an objection to the wording at the end of the video "Did Yer Do?" I have uploaded a revised version that may be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAzfMeEFcUs&feature=youtu.be
The Grazer Stadtfest is a two-day event over a long weekend in Austria. Smokie closed the show last night to a wildly enthusiastic audience. During this event the whole town is a network of stages of varying sizes offering a wide variety of different styles of music. Everywhere buzzes with music and the town appears not to sleep for 48 hours. The atmosphere is intoxicating. As black clouds rolled in yesterday it was unclear whether the low pressure was going to be kind to us or not. In Linz they were not so lucky as floodwaters rose and threatened people's properties. The party continued in Graz, and what a party it was. I feel very happy and privileged to be a part of it and, in particular, to bring the whole weekend's celebrations to such a happy conclusion.
The video for "Did Yer Do?" is now available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTeHxrzoLuA
A second night of Jolly Joking took place in Turkey's Capital City, Ankara. This is the band's first time in Ankara, so we were full of initial impressions about the place. It's a totally different vibe to Istanbul and the venue is much larger. However, we had no trouble filling it with a wildly enthusiastic crowd. The people in this region had waited a long time to see Smokie live and they would like us to return again soon. After discussing this with the boss we made a provisional plan to return to all three Jolly Jokers next year - Antalya (newly refurbished), Ankara and Istanbul. So, if you happen to be in Turkey at the right time in 2014 I can promise you a night to remember. It seems like our love affair with this country is newly rekindled, and that's a very good feeling.
This is your roving reporter, Martin Istanbullard. Last night we found ourselves at a familiar venue with a name change. On our previous visit, on 28th April 2007, it was called Balans Music Hall. Now it has been re-born as Istanbul's own Jolly Joker, and it's a very lively place. It was packed to the rafters with expectant revellers, all fired up for their first Smokie gig in 6 years. As we took to the stage we could have shaken hands with most of the audience, the entrance being so close to where they were standing. There is a Hard Rock Cafe type of feel to this venue for it has a semi-circular stage fashioned into a snare drum, a bar shaped like a guitar and table-tops decorated as keyboards. The place rocks before we even set foot in it. It's impossible to have a bad gig (not that we ever would). Our audience's appreciation was almost tangible. It's good to be back in Turkey and more likely that we will return a little more regularly in future. Today we move on to the capital city, Ankara, for more jolliness and even more jokes.
A Danish festival that is in its infancy is the one in Kerteminde. The land is privately owned and comprises the original house, overlooking a large lawned area with fish pond, and the new house that is the family residence. The whole area holds 1,500 people with ease and probably many more. The stage looks magnificent against a beautiful sea view. With the weather changing into summer in the last two days, conditions were perfect for a successful evening. With so many festivals happening in Denmark at this time of year it can be a risky undertaking to start another one, especially when the evening coincides with The Eurovision Song Contest. As we now know, Denmark walked away with the top prize in Eurovision, there being little to challenge them as favourites. Whilst all that was going on, Smokie were wowing a very enthusiastic audience in these lovely surroundings. I am happy that the evening was so successful and trust that there will be another invitation in future to return to this beautiful place, always hoping that the conditions will be as favourable as they were last night.
The gig in Skive, I am told, arose from what used to be the Skive Beach Party. Smokie have played this gig a few times. Now the location is different but the feel is the same. There was something in the air last night that may be to do with the end of school year celebrations. Even at 8 o'clock this morning I saw unusually dressed young people pounding the pavement on their way home after a long night of revelry. Also it seems that Summer started yesterday. Whatever the underlying reason there was a great atmosphere at Rock Ved Aen last night. It has started the Summer touring on a high note and one that I will wish to preserve right until the end of August. Tonight we are in Kerteminde on Funen. I anticipate a few stops on the way to enjoy a few of the sun's rays.
We are getting more invitations to play for the birthday parties of notable members of Eastern Bloc society. Some of these affairs are very lush with no expense spared and all the trimmings. Last night was one such event and it was held at the impressive and spacious Koue Manor. Our host had clearly laid on a very special day in the main house that eventually adjourned to the converted stables where the concert was held. From our backstage area around the swimming pool we were able to see some unusual sights, all of which I shall keep in memory and not share on this occasion. Suffice to say that what occurred would not have been out of place at a 70's bash amongst similarly wealthy people. You may have seen it in films; last night we saw it for real. Our focus is always the gig, and it was a major success. It was a delight to see how people who had filed in an orderly fashion from the main house to the stables became instantly relaxed as we hit the stage. It's as if a button had been pressed and everyone was allowed to switch to party mode. This was one of my favourite of all private functions and one I would happily repeat in the event that the gentleman concerned holds it again in, say, 10 years' time. Do you think we will still be around in 10 years? Well, I've been with the band for 25 years and I joined 14 years after Smokie's beginnings. With the type of support we have around the world it would be hard to imagine not doing it. Check with me again in 2023. I'll only be 66 and, after all, The Rolling Stones carried on into their 70's. It's only Rock and Roll and I like it.
I do get asked some interesting questions that threaten to turn me into a walking encyclopaedia. Now that I am a travel agent (as well as a keyboard player) - at least, for today, I can confirm that Valer is North East of Oslo above Jessheim. Question answered? I hope so. Otherwise, there's always Google. That source of information never lets us down and contains even more data than I can hold in this ageing brain. I shall see our Norwegian fans in Valer - now that everyone knows where it is. If you get lost just remember it's the third mountain on the right after the troll's hideout before you get to the fjord. There'll be a moose in the road as a guide.
The video for "I like what I see" is now available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJvI7IGMtoM
The Getec Arena positively glistened in the sunlight as we approached. Our journey from the south west to the north east of Germany had taken eight and a half hours. As I mentioned to some of my colleagues, I often spend eight hours just in Amsterdam waiting for my onward flight, so this was nothing out of the ordinary. The journey was worth every minute because we had such a great response from the crowd that I would have travelled twice as long just to enjoy the atmosphere. It's been good to catch up with our friends in other bands for a while - something we don't often get the chance to do because we are generally on tour alone. The camaraderie just grows with time and new friendships blossom as a result of being part of the multi band programmes. Now we can look forward to a couple of free weekends to take some time out and get involved in other projects for a while. I'm very much hoping that the garden will start to benefit from a few of the sun's rays and even for the grass to start growing. It's very late this year. Next time Smokie hits the road we will be on the outdoor summer circuit.
I am reliably informed that it is 18 years since we were in Saarbrucken. I had a chance to look around the city today and enjoy the atmosphere that accompanies early Spring. The seated audience at Saarlandhalle were extremely well prepared to enjoy themselves and join the party. It makes entertaining so effortless when everyone appears to be in the right mood - and our crowd were definitely in the right mood. These two shows in Germany early in the year are the prelude to our 10-date tour in October and have set the tone perfectly. It's a great pleasure to be in this part of Europe right now and to feel the change in people's energy as the longer days start to benefit all. I don't wish for time to pass too quickly for I would like to savour every moment of this run-up to the summer shows. It always seems too short a time between the start and the end of the season. That's how time passes when we are enjoying ourselves.
The sight of dozens of mobile phones lit up during "If you think you know how to love me" is a familiar sight here in Russia, as it is in all of the Eastern Bloc countries. Somehow it is equally impressive in a small venue as it is in a large arena. On this visit we played the bijou theatre Zvezda whereas our last visit was hosted by Lada. It was the last show on this mini Russian tour and was the most animated one so far. Perhaps there is less of a tendency in these parts to hold on to old concerns about public displays of enjoyment. Smokie are always about having a good time and showing it. People have enough to worry about in their private lives and they welcome the opportunity to escape; we are all about escapism. Well, my immediate escape is via three flights as far as Manchester Airport. Yes, I know I live in The Highlands, but there is no way to get quite so far tonight - that pleasure will have to wait until tomorrow morning. But Manchester is close enough because it's only a plane ride away. Come to think of it, everywhere I go is only a plane ride away. Where would we be without air travel? Maybe I should sign up to be one of the early space tourists, although I wouldn't go quite as far as being one of the 20 people who choose to start the new Mars colony in 2023. I look to the stars, but from the safety of Earth. After all, it's a wonderful planet and it's blue - my favourite colour.
From the moment I walked into Ogni Ufyi it stirred memories of our last time there in September 2010. It's a real rock club - it even has mock-up rock scenery behind the stage that lends it an earthy feel. No problem creating an atmosphere here because it starts with one. Although the audience are seated they needed little encouragement to get up and dance. To add to the flavour of the evening there is a fabulous restaurant behind the bar that we all remember from our last visit due to the high quality of the food as well as the fact that the venue brews its own beer. It's little wonder that we have such a good night there because everything is in place for entertainment at its best. It's also the home of our promoter, Vladimir - also known as Razzle Wolf. For him in particular it was important that the evening was a success and it was surely everything for which he could have hoped. It marked our penultimate show on this great tour of Russia. Now we transfer to Samara where we have our last performance before making the long journey home. Well, it wouldn't do for Smokie to gig in easily accessible places, would it? We do like a challenge.
"We have waited 30 years for you", said one lady outside The Opera and Ballet Theatre in Chelyabinsk. Was it what she was expecting? Apparently she could not contain her excitement and was keen to let us know after the show that it was "the best day of her life". Such enthusiasm just goes straight to the heart and is a fair representation of the feelings of so many of our followers in Russia. A Russian tour is a tour of emotions and experiences. It is very heartening to see a crowd who, until now, have been discouraged from standing and showing too much enthusiasm (in case they start a riot) actually become so involved in the show that they forget how they have been conditioned to stay rigid and behave themselves. Things are changing here gradually and it is noticeable each time we tour that there is a difference. The Russians have always been extremely hospitable and now they show warmth as well. What a pleasure to be able to look back to our first foray into this massive region in 1991 and see for ourselves how a nation moves with the times. Music has played a large part in this transition and Smokie have been at the forefront of cultural and social changes because of the availability of our songs. It's no wonder that the President so often asks us to The Kremlin Palace. No doubt he keeps his ear to the ground and hears what the people are saying about Smokie music. We are safe because we are not political and we entertain on a level that suits all ages. How lucky we are. I shall always treasure this wonderful asset.
For practical reasons not every day in Russia is spent performing. There are also the travel days during which we either transfer by plane to a location some distance away and in a different time zone or we board a train and spend many hours transferring to another city at a very moderate pace and usually overnight. Yesterday we flew from Moscow to Chelyabinsk - the city most recently known for the landing of a meteor and the subsequent damage it caused. On approach it is clear that this is an industrial city; the scores of chimneys belching out smoke and the less-than-white snow confirm this impression. There is no shortage of information about Chelyabinsk since February 15th when the sky lit up and some of the inhabitants thought the end of the world had arrived. There is a new "meteor tourism" fad which, it is hoped, will bring meteorite collectors and fans to this area. The chances of owning a piece of space dust are very small since the main body of the meteor fell into Chebarkul Lake.
However, I am not here as a space tourist because Smoke are due to play at Drama Theatre tonight before boarding an overnight train to Ufa. A nine-hour overnight journey will see us arriving in time for breakfast tomorrow morning and a chance for some sleep before the show. I think my blog may be arriving a little later than usual tomorrow. Greetings to all earthlings and sky watchers. May all your asteroids yield valuable spin-offs (and not break your windows in the process).
What can we expect when we hit the capital of Russia where we are so very popular? At the very least it's an ecstatic reaction to our hit-laden show. But there's more - much more. The venue was Crocus City Hall, which cuts an impressive figure against the Moscow evening skyline. This is not like the dozens of Houses of Culture from a bygone age but is more like The Royal Festival Hall in London. Such modern architecture in a country noted for its historical buildings stands out as it projects its acres of glass against the horizon. A crowded motorway network threatened to make us late as we emerged from the St Petersburg to Moscow railway. However, there was ample time for a soundcheck and a quick KFC before taking to the stage and meeting our very enthusiastic audience. We hardly needed to invite them to stand on their feet for they were eager to do so, even if the security guards were keen to prevent them from standing. Their reaction was real confirmation that our position as one of Russia's favourite bands is secure. And kind and generous Russians never miss a chance to seek us out and tell us this, as well as shower us with the finest quality vodka that money can buy. What a pleasure it is to be so honoured as to be repeatedly invited back to this amazing and interesting country. Today we move on to the city which has made the news recently, Chelyabinsk, for it was there that the meteorite fell recently. Although it would be good for Smokie to make a big impression in this area I think we should do so without breaking any windows. Perhaps I should go searching for meteorite fragments while taking a look around the city.
Smokie's touring year began in St Petersburg and last night we were there again - this time at Palace of Culture Gorkogo, a venue we haven't played before. Although we were let down by KLM's failure to deliver most of our clothes and equipment the day before there was sufficient gear available to make the show a success. Our audience gave us a huge round of applause as we took to the stage and continued with their enthusiastic support throughout the show. There was no problem getting these people on their feet, as had been the case many years ago when we started our Russian adventure in April 1991. There was even a member of last night's audience who was there for that maiden tour and remembers it well. Today we board the St Petersburg to Moscow train for our show tonight at Crocus City Hall. This mini Russian tour takes in just 5 cities and is promising to be a great success from start to finish.
What better a place to adapt to British Summer Time than Cork in Ireland? Apart from the high winds, driving rain and chill factor there is the excitement of returning to a newly refurbished Opera House; a place we haven't seen since March 2009. Linda Cullen, our support, lent a fabulous folky feel to the event, ably assisted by Kevin, her tall and enigmatic guitarist. Once again the lovely vibrant backdrop was on show to set a classy mood to the night's performance. Smokie were on good form regardless of the missing hour's sleep (we do get it back again in October). Some dear friends were waiting for us in the bar at The Montenotte Hotel and it was a great pleasure to catch up. It was one of those days that I wish could have been several hours longer. But Rock and Roll is all about rushing in and getting the job done and then moving on while musing over the rapid experiences. Cork was a celebration and a job well done. It has created a lasting memory for these ageing grey cells to process.
Today I am just in transit at my usual hotel in Manchester Airport, awaiting my onward move to St Petersburg. It's like standing in the wings waiting to go onstage - a familiar experience for me. If there is one thing I have become very good at during my 25-year Smokie career it is waiting. I give thanks for the MacBook, the Kindle Fire HD and the iPhone without which the waiting would undoubtedly result in many hours of squinting at printed material. Bring on the next generation of gadgets for the frequent traveller for I shall be investing. I hope you all had a peaceful Easter with an adequate supply of chocolate, good company and drinks to your liking. I am going back into the wings to wait for my curtain call.
There's no mistaking when the band are going down really well. The audience become very animated and look like they are waiting to burst out of their seats. It starts with the swaying and the toe-tapping and develops into a free-for-all effort to command part of the floor as a dance area. Nowhere was out of bounds last night here at Gleneagle Hotel. The Irish have shown us, once again, how to have a thoroughly great time without any show of self-consciousness. Everyone let go last night, including the band. There is no better party than the one where everyone is drawn into this magical atmosphere. Happy Easter to all and enjoy the extra daylight. Perhaps Spring will start to emerge soon!
Driving into King's Lynn I am aware of the visibility of agriculture. I see farmers' fields everywhere and restaurants selling local produce. It reminds me that there are pockets of the UK where growing food for our own consumption is still happening and it brings back memories of happy times and my family life in Suffolk where we always used to help the farmer bring in his produce, burn off the fields and then have a big party. The country is so flat that you could lay carpet over the length of it. However, our audience at Corn Exchange were definitely not flat; in fact they were rather excited. Our return to this fabulous venue was greeted with great enthusiasm.
As always, once the gig is over, my thoughts return to the 550-mile journey home. I set off after the gig and drive through the night, usually getting home about 9 in the morning. However, it was not on the cards for me to have such a smooth trip yesterday because my car failed as I entered Inverness. The news wasn't good, for the fan belt was shredded and the steering was completely gone. I wait to hear news today of just how big a job it will be to repair the damage when the Mercedes dealer finally assess the matter. Still it's good to be home for 10 days and to get my feet under the table once more here in The Highlands. Some very good parties are arranged for my return. That means I shall need to get back in training to drink alcohol. Could be interesting!
Because the stage at York Barbican is rather generous in proportion it allows us to put up the impressive backdrop that we brought home with us after the tour of South Korea last year. The picture is a night time view of a busy Piccadilly Circus with our logo appearing amongst the neon lights overlooking the statue of Eros. The result is stunning and makes very fine scenery in venues that are large enough to accommodate it. The venue fairly echoed with the refrains of our faithful Yorkshire audience as they dug deep into their party frames of mind and let go of all thoughts other than having a good time with the band. Comments included: "That's the best I've ever seen you play" and "That's the best sound I've ever heard at a Smokie gig". It's so encouraging to hear these remarks so far into our careers. I don't ever believe that we can't keep on improving, so I look forward to experiencing more of those same comments in future. It is always my personal aim to make the next show the best one I have ever played. That helps me to look forward to every gig with similar enthusiasm.
As I took to the stage last night I knew there was something missing. There was no hotel room key in my pocket. That can only mean one thing - it's a UK tour. And sure enough the reaction from our audience at Victoria Theatre confirmed that we were very close to home. Jen Armstrong, our support for these three UK dates, got the show off to a very strong start with a very original version of "Billie Jean" and went on to impress with a variety of songs on just piano and voice, including a great version of "Skyfall". She is a great talent and one to watch out for in future. Easily spotted by her pink hair, as you may see if you look at her website: http://www.jenarmstrong.tv.
The tour moves on to York today, along with several of our fans who have confirmed that they will be at every show. It's good to see so many familiar faces in the audience and makes me realise that a year without UK dates would leave a melancholy gap in our schedule.
It's a great pleasure to have Jen Armstrong, singer and songwriter, on tour with us this week in England. For more information about her check out: http://www.jenarmstrong.tv
At the top of the hill above Sundsvall sits the very familiar Sodra Berget Hotel. Repeat bookings at this magnificent venue have meant that it is now a regular fixture for Smokie. However, one main difference this time was that we played in the theatre rather than the function room. It was an ideal location for our concert performance because the tiered seating allowed every member of the audience a good view of the stage. It wasn't hard to get the crowd involved in the show and they soon warmed to the hits as well as the fresher material. Sunny days gave the location a postcard look as skiers whizzed past the hotel on pure white snow against a blue sky. For the winter sports enthusiast it is the perfect location, especially if you also happen to be a Smokie fan.
As I wake up this morning I am feeling the excitement of achievement, for it is 25 years to the day since I started my Smokie career. Perhaps I should be gigging somewhere in Sweden but, as it happens, I have a day off in Gothenburg to reflect on all those wonderful memories. Last night we played to a very eager crowd at the familiar Vara Konserthus. Mid-week it may have been and small it was yet the atmosphere created would have graced an audience twice the size. I feel like an elder statesman of rock because so much of our work now consolidates our very comfortable position in this music industry. Enjoying the shows is effortless and they just seem to get better and better with time. There's no shortage of energy in Smokie's live show, regardless of our ages - an aspect on which many of our fans comment in their blogs, tweets and social network responses. I never imagined, when I embarked on this career on 7th March 1988, that I would still be here, and even less that Smokie's career would have continued at such a pace. I thank our fans every day for their undying support and also all our new fans who have discovered our music and been impressed by the party atmosphere of a Smokie gig. Long may it continue and perhaps I shall be blogging again for my 30th Anniversary with similar remarks.
It seemed as though the entire army of papparazzi had turned out for our concert at Sala Palatului in Bucharest, for the camera clicks were nearly as loud as our invited orchestra. These symphonic evenings are becoming so popular in the Eastern Bloc and last night's sell-out show was a perfect example of how the formula works to perfection. It has been a little over three years since we were in this part of the world but last night's audience reaction would seem to suggest that we will be back much sooner next time.
My biggest surprise, when I arrived last night at the Brunstad Conference Centre, was seeing the show jumping arena set up inside the building. The Vestfold Horse Show is a major international event that takes place over ten days. I was lucky to be able to see some of the events from within the VIP area, witness the rather lighthearted medieval jousting display and enjoy as much sushi as I could eat. After a day exclusively given over to horses came the entertainment part - including, of course, music from "Wild Horses", amongst other well-known songs. The crowd fairly galloped around the dance floor, having consumed a hearty dinner. Although they were not mainly present to see Smokie they gave their best on the dance floor and steadily warmed to us as the set progressed. We left the audience in good spirits and ready for a party that is sure to last until about the time that we check out for our early morning flight to Amsterdam. In typical rock and roll fashion a late night is followed by an early morning and we mostly agreed that we would probably not make it all the way to our beds tonight but make do with the couch in the downstairs part of our chalets within the complex. What a glamorous lifestyle we have!
For an inside look at Smokie's recording at The Chairworks just follow the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_jkk_yWHPk&list=UU26J3tD6UgUw9UDE7I72MQw&index=1
It's not often that I get enthusiastic about football, but Bradford City have really made the headlines by playing their way to the Wembley Final. We all love a success story and this is a big one for the team that comes from the city originally associated with Smokie. Also, a rather familiar song has featured in the process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOwd1CBhXu4&feature=youtu.be
To round off our mini Irish Tour, for now, we played the very familiar Waterfront to a packed house. The fact that many people have to work tomorrow did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm. It felt like a Saturday night. The crowd warmed to the appearance of Pat McManus, local hero, who joined us for several of the final songs, featuring largely in "Celtic Days" and "Whiskey in the jar". His solo in "O, Carol" is just magnificent. He is a great pleasure to work with and a very popular man in his home country. It was a proper Irish celebration with all the exuberance and energy that goes with such an event. We will return to the Waterfront before too long, as we promised. I believe that there is always a very warm welcome for us there.
A huge crowd thronged the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny to fill the conference room. Again it brought back memories of Ireland when there were never enough tickets to fill demand. The audience brought with them their party voices and had a thoroughly good time with Smokie. Putting economic concerns aside, our audiences are making sure that their celebrations are not marred by outside forces. I salute them for being leaders in revelry and also for turning our biggest hit into a legend.
In a very charming way Sullivan's Hotel in Gort has remained exactly as I remember it from twenty years ago. Even small things like talking on a corded phone from the room (rather than trying to use the WiFi) are highly reminiscent of the old days. The whole experience was completed when a huge audience filled the function room, leaving precious little space to move. As the condensation ran down the walls I felt the joy of capturing a bygone age. Some things don't change here in Ireland and I am very happy that this is the case. Even the hospitality we received from everyone at the hotel would be hard to better anywhere in the world. Thank you to the Irish for preserving some of the quality of life that is mostly missing in 21st century living. This is a pace of life that I can enjoy and treasure.
I have recently become a user of Love Film after buying a Kindle Fire HD, and I found both the first series and also "An Innocent Abroad" in their listings. Although I composed Hannah's theme music I never saw the final TV shows, so it's good to have a chance to see what happened to her on her journeys. She was a truly fascinating woman with a great intellect and a positively saintly manner. I recommend this series.
Please note that there have been some alterations to our dates for the forthcoming Swedish tour as well as some new additions during the year.
Now that all the Smokie demos are complete I am taking the opportunity to work on Track 6 of "The Code Within". A short video is online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxok5-fMTK0&feature=youtu.be
I guess it goes without saying that Smokie's diary changes on a weekly basis. As I get the updates I always post them on this site. Where there are only city names it means that the venue is not confirmed yet with our management. Perhaps the tickets are selling, so maybe you know more than we do. If that is the case I shall always be happy to post your information here. Look forward to seeing you wherever you are in the world.
It's been a creative period for me with three demo songs now in the can. The first two, "Just press send" and "That won't wait" were co-written with my son, Luke, and the latest one, "I like what I see" was co-written with Alistair Frazerpeters, a gentleman who is in the Highlands for a short time. That's enough Smokie material for now, so it's time to take a look at Track 6 of The Code Within - "Infinity". In the meantime I need a few brisk walks in the mountains to get my energy up again for touring. I took my first walk yesterday and am still feeling the effects on muscles which haven't been used for a while. There's only one remedy - do it again as soon as possible!
If you would like to take a look at the recording process here at Enrick Studio just follow the YouTube link: http://youtu.be/IxNMVjh2WtQ
Enrick Studio has been awash with activity over the last two days. With a guitar backing track supplied by Luke, before he returned to The Institute of Contemporary Performance in London, I set out to write a new song for Smokie. The title, as you can see above, is "Just press "send"". Lyrically it is really about communication, the hook line hinting at our texting and emailing, Face Book and Twitter activities. Underneath, of course, it is about relationships. Let's see if it passes muster and makes it on to the next album. One more track to write this week and then I shall return to "The Code Within".
What was once the Apollo Club changed to Salon Express and then to 777 Club. What's in a name? It matters not what they call it, for we know the venue well after having played it last year just before Christmas. Many of the same faces were evident and the crowd's reaction matched last year's response. They were not at all weary after Christmas and seemed well in the mood to burn off some of that surplus turkey-fed energy. It was a fitting end to our touring year and we may now look forward to a bit of home celebration before recharging ourselves for another busy touring year along with the recording of a new album. Do we ever slow down? No, not really. It's the work that keeps you young, I have discovered, so there's no need to put on the brakes just yet. Perhaps we might switch to cruise mode for a bit. Now keep an eye out for that New Year banner on this website. Enjoy your celebrations and try not to do the driving if you can avoid it. I may well find myself in the unusual situation of drinking alcohol, but don't expect to see me do it when I am on tour. Who needs the alcohol when music is the drug?
The fun and games began as soon as the show started. My keyboard and pedals were festooned with fruit - satsumas, bananas and apples, as were all the seats occupied by the orchestra. The fruit came in handy during "If you think you know how to love me" when the orchestra used it to wave in the air while the audience waved their phones and cigarette lighters. I took the band by surprise when I started playing The Muppet Theme Tune instead of "Home is anywhere you are". Behind us the orchestra were putting on their own little show and singing along with the songs. Mexican waves gave way to dances and eventually the whole orchestra came to the front of the stage to join in with "If I can't love you". The conductor, Adam, took a pair of sticks and joined Steve on the drums while another member of the orchestra took up the baton to conduct the orchestra. There was so much activity at Hala Mosir that it was impossible to keep track of where everyone was supposed to be. I donned the antlers and red nose that were given to me in Denmark to mark the beginning of Christmas celebrations, just to heighten the mood. I think we have turned L"Autunno Orchestra into a real rock and roll orchestra and, for them, there's no going back to what they were before they started this tour. You cannot unlearn something you have just learnt. The final show was an unqualified success and delighted the audience with all the tricks and games. This was the night that nobody wanted to end. However, although I am ecstatically happy with the whole tour, I am ready to go home and join my family who are already there waiting for me. I am sure that December 21st will be just another travel day, even though it is being given enormous relevance by so many doomsday prophets. Everything will be just fine, and for one very good reason - Smokie have a busy 2013 planned, so there's much to look forward to. I wish all of our fans a very Merry Christmas and all the good things you hope for. Enjoy and appreciate your family and friends at Christmas and remember to carry on doing the same for the other 364 days of the year.
Hala Stulecia (Centennial Hall) cuts a very impressive figure in Wroclaw. The central dome is massive and very echoey. It's like releasing sound at St Peter's Basilica at The Vatican. Our audience seemed well spread until they rose to their feet for "Don't play your rock and roll", after which time they remained eager and in great voice. Another great venue, another great show. We approach the climax of this wonderful tour with a farewell performance at Zielona Gora. It's been an absolute pleasure and one for the memoirs.
Last night at Sala Kongresowa we whipped our audience up into a frenzy. They were, by far, the earliest to be on their feet of any Polish audience so far. The show has matured in the last week and new bits of comedy are appearing each night. With just two performances to go it is anyone's guess what will happen. On thing is for sure - we are going to have a lot of fun.
Auditorium Maximum is a huge lecture theatre with tiered seating of the type you find in cinemas. An unusual arrangement for a Smokie audience, yet one that in no way inhibited either of our audiences from standing and joining the party. The good things about this type of set up is that everyone gets a great view and the crowd tend to all get up at the same time. With Christmas drawing ever closer there is an intense atmosphere of celebration. The really wacky stuff is reserved for the last three shows and I expect the final night in Zielona Gura to be fairly riotous. Today we move on to Warsaw and have an evening of rest before our last three shows of the tour.
Something looked familiar about Dom Muzyki I Tanca in Zabrze. It all made sense once we realised that we were last there in 1997. Having had a sizeable gap in our Polish touring, I don't have records going back this far, so I have to rely on my memory. One thing is for sure - we have never had a more vociferous crowd than last night. They were wild with excitement, and their reaction was matched by the performance of our now "rock and roll orchestra". L'Autunno's conductor, Adam, has relaxed his appearance and taken to using hair gel. His gestures are wilder than ever and his style of conducting has evolved in the direction of pure comedy. We are having a lot of fun, as you can tell, and there are likely to be more unexpected happenings as we move closer to Christmas and the final shows of the tour. But today we need all the energy we can muster for there are two shows rather than one. It's all part of the adventure.
The massive Atlas Arena was our venue for last night's energetic rendition. After a day of rest there was new energy from both the band and L'Autunno Orchestra. I asked our conductor, Adam, about the history of the orchestra. Apparently he formed them five years ago for just one project and quickly named them after Vivaldi's "Autumn", not thinking that they would still be going strong after five years. I hope we will see them many times again in the future, and here they are with their version of "Blue Intro": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqSQIwMpwTc&list=UU26J3tD6UgUw9UDE7I72MQw&index=1
How much better can a performance get? How much more enthusiasm can an audience demonstrate? Each day we reach a new high and I wonder when we will reach our peak. The orchestra loosened up a little more last night at Hala Gdynia. There was an infectious playful mood amongst the players that further egged the band on to keep the humour going. This is not just a performance or a musical happening, it's a whole show - an extravaganza. It's like "Smokie - The Musical". Perhaps it's time for an enterprising entrepreneur to make that happen. It has already been discussed. It wouldn't take too much imagination to write a storyline and hang it on the many and various hits. Now we are thoroughly warmed up we take a break to drive 350 kilometres to Lodz for the next show on Friday. In the meantime there is a chance to play around with some lyrics for another possible Smokie song for the new album. There's no grass growing underneath these feet!
Smokie are covering more parts of Poland than on previous tours, and hence discovering new places. It's always good to play somewhere new, especially when we get the sort of reaction that we had last night at Luzniczka Arena. Our Polish Orchestra have really settled in and are in the swing of the rock and roll presentation. I see total enjoyment on their faces and it's absolutely delightful. We are a strong team now, performing as one entity rather than two. The mood is infectious and excites the audience into venturing out of their seats at the earliest opportunity. The show lasts over ninety minutes yet it seems to be over so quickly, such is the atmosphere it creates. We move on to Gdynia tomorrow.
A fresh snowfall and rush hour traffic delayed our arrival at Hala Arena in Poznan, resulting in a very short rehearsal with our Polish Orchestra. However, nothing could dampen their enthusiasm or alter the fact that our first show in Poland would get off to a great start. The audience rewarded us with a very passionate response to our symphonic presentation. We have set the bar high and plan to keep it that way. With another 9 shows yet to go there is much to look forward to. Our young orchestra comprises just 25 players, all of whom will be with us for the entire tour. I look forward to every performance for it is the best part of the day. Now, I wonder how to pronounce Bydgoszcz!
Beginning with a bracing walk around the attractive streets in the locality of the cathedral and then moving on to do a Smokie internet chat to 8,000 web users, this day was becoming interesting. Vilnius is a beautiful city. My time in it is just too short. However, there is no better way to celebrate than to fill Pramogu Arena with people and entertain them, with the assistance of our now very familiar orchestra. We ended our spell in Lithuania on a high note, leaving the audience, the orchestra and the band feeling entirely satisfied that things could not have been better. I heard that phrase again - "when are you coming back?"- and that was just a promoter talking. Realistically we shall return to do more orchestral shows in two years. That's the usual gap between such bookings. Since the end of 2013 promises to be hectic I think it is unlikely that we would be here sooner than that. But things change and there are always surprises in store for Smokie. We now move on to Poznan and our next rehearsal with our Polish orchestra.
While the success of last night's double set in Klaipeda was still fresh in our minds we arrived at Siauliu Arena in Siauliai where we had last played on 1st January 2011 at the end of our Christmas Tour. And here we were again warming our audience up for the run-up to Christmas 2012. The fusion of rock and orchestral works so well in this country that it would be hard to imagine not doing it this way. Our audience were eager to take up position in front of the stage and answer the call of "Do you want to rock and roll?". As the music filled the arena the crowd showed their delight at the massive sound, enhanced so much by the 43 players who sit on the raised stage behind us. It is Smokie plus, and what a big plus that is. Vitautas, our conductor, continues to add to his repertoire of comical dances as he guides his players through the show, sometimes dancing with a violinist and sometimes just leaping about to their amusement. Our combined efforts are reaching a crescendo as we approach the final night in Lithuania before moving on to Poland to work with another orchestra. I expect tomorrow night will include some of the usual follies that go hand in hand with final performances as well as the fond farewells before we move on. Another day, another show, another country. Such is the life of an entertainer.
Svyturio Arena is familiar territory for Smokie as we officially opened it on 28th July last year. With that piece of history in our favour we were treated as very special guests at this beautiful venue. To make things a little different we did a split set that was carefully divided so as to keep the high points where they really needed to be. One lasting memory of this show, as well as others, is the way all the mobile phones light up during "If you think you know how to love me". It's a truly magical moment that makes me feel like Christmas is already here. Some say that last night's show was the best so far, and I think they may be right. There is really a good chemistry between Smokie and The Vilnius Symphonietta that reaches out to the audience. It just keeps getting better and better for us. What an amazing end to our year that features mostly arena shows. There is something in the air for Smokie, and I like it very much.
It's a great feeling to have an orchestra play one of my own works. Much of my material is ideal for orchestral performance, so it is very exciting for me when an orchestra takes on the role of scoring and performing one of my arrangements. During the first part of this Smokie Symphonietta Tour of The Eastern Bloc, The Vilnius Symphonietta perform their version of "Blue Intro" before launching into the full version and the start of the show. To hear them take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9VZkOZ5xoI&list=UU26J3tD6UgUw9UDE7I72MQw&index=1
As the audience at Zalgirio Arena warmed up last night they showed that they wanted to be on their feet and joining the party. Their early attempts were, however, thwarted by security whose aim it was to keep everyone in their seats. That just doesn't work at Smokie concerts. Years of conditioning have led the people to believe that they must conform and do as they are told by authority. Again that doesn't work at Smokie concerts. What does work is when the massive crowd act as one and rise up to get full enjoyment from the show. Their enthusiasm was full to bursting and they let go in a way that was just short of riotous. The final result was that they didn't wish for the show to end and let us know in no uncertain terms that this had been a historic night for them. Long after the show finished there were still fans and promoter talking about Smokie's return to Kaunas. A party ensued in our hotel and Smokie music blared out in the bar until 5.00 this morning. Having this sort of effect on people is intoxicating. It's like using sparks to start fires and then waiting to see how long the fires will last. In our case the fires seem to burn for ever and the appetite for Smokie music never wanes. We even accept new gigs for next year while we are waiting to go on stage. Our career has huge momentum and to try to slow it would be like standing in front of a speeding truck and expecting not to get struck. This is all the result of hard work and persistent touring. There is no fast and easy route. In three months' time I shall celebrate 25 years of being with Smokie. It's been worth every minute.
The Vilnius Sinfonietta (for that is our current orchestra) had a bit of a surprise for us tonight. To open the show they play two unusual and unexpected instrumentals - "Derry Girl" and "Going back to Bradford" before launching into a full version of my intro 'Blue Intro" that starts each show. The arrangements lend a bit of lightheartedness to the show and help to loosen up the players before they join us in some classical rock and roll. I can sense that, as these first five shows progress, there will be more relaxing on the part of the players as they approach their final performance in their home town where, I have no doubt, there will be plenty of movement on their part in, for example, the mexican wave and other fun exhibits. Now we have one show under our belt the mood is set for the tour; and it is a mood that spread amongst our eager Latvian audience. Once they were on their feet they wanted real contact with the band. It was as much as I could do to stand my ground as some attempted to pull me off the stage. It was all with the best of intentions, I am sure, and merely underlined the fact that Smokie are very popular in Latvia. We only occasionally visit this part of the world and we are always made very welcome. Now we move on to Lithuania where we will be playing at Zalgirio Arena. I look forward to this with eager anticipation.
My Smokie commitments have taken precedence , there being many interviews to do for the forthcoming Orchestra Tour. This means that "The Code Within" will have to wait until next year. I have, however, uploaded the latest version to all the relevant online stores so there are five tracks available at present. When I return to the studio I shall continue creating "Infinity", which is the name of the sixth track. I look forward to getting into the composing mood again in 2013.
OK, the tree is up, the lights are on and I'm ready to celebrate. It's an early start, I agree, but I have to be ready early as I shall be in the Eastern Bloc until 21st December. So I have prepared the website with a festive look and added a poem at the bottom of the menu. Now all I have to do is practise eating mince pies in readiness for the big occasion.
Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end, including tours. A 5,000-strong audience at Liverpool's Echo Arena witnessed the final show in this Once in a Lifetime Tour and left us with no doubt that they were joining the party. It was a night of mixed emotions for the entertainers because we have enjoyed being together so much yet we were all trying to catch up with each other during the evening to say our farewells before facing the anticlimax at the end of the tour. One good thing leads to another and I did the 500-mile journey after the gig, arriving at my home in The Highlands at 7.20 this morning, where I was very happy to take a good Sunday rest. I shall not leave these shores again for two weeks when I shall head for Riga and the start of the Christmas Orchestra Tour. There's much to do here and I think the Christmas Tree will be going up this week. I shall really enjoy this break before Smokie's next engagements and take the opportunity to maybe get back in the studio to create Track 6 of "The Code Within" if inspiration strikes. I wish to thank all our fans who have attended this Arena Tour for making it so special for us. Some people travelled a very long way to see the shows (one from Perth in Australia) and every audience got on their feet and sang with us during our short set. It would be great to do it again, and a little bird tells me that this could be more than just a New Year wish.
Braving the heavy Friday afternoon traffic, we set off for The Sheffield Motor Point Arena for what has now become a daily habit. Everyone knows everyone and we are united in our quest to put on the best show of the year with which the UK has been presented. Our routine is the same and the reaction we draw from our audience is very similar each night. It's just the location that changes. What has been so impressive on this tour is that we have had the audience on their feet by the end of the show in every location. After tomorrow night this experience will cease and there is bound to be a huge anticlimax once we strike our final note. Of course, for Smokie there is another very exciting tour just round the corner, but this one, in our home country, has had a profound effect on both entertainers and audience. Tomorrow it's Liverpool and then a long journey home. I shall be as happy to be at home as I have been on this tour. It's all good, however I spend my days.
Because I am mostly travelling and, therefore, do not get to the internet as often as I would like, I am coupling these two gigs together in one report. At Newcastle Metro Radio Arena we were faced with a very enthusiastic crowd ready to give us the big Geordie welcome. It took a matter of minutes before the crowd were into the mood of the show. Who could not enjoy a show packed with hits? It's infectious, and the mood was taken up by our eager audience at The Cardiff Motor Point Arena. Our set is having the same effect on everyone who hears us. What a wonderful feeling it is to have such a wining formula each night and to know that we are causing such great happiness amongst our audience. I always look forward to the next show and there are only two more of them. When this tour ends it will surely be time to take stock of our reputation around the UK. Maybe we can go further afield in future. Only time will tell.
I feel that there is a strong likelihood that all I can really tell you about these arena shows each day is that they are going extremely well. More than that, they are all immensely successful. It's a winning formula. Smokie are getting a much needed boost as we are playing to more people each night than we would normally play to on a whole UK tour. It's an easy gig playing for 30 minutes and delivering a show that features only the pick of the hits. This punchy show enables us to really get the audience going in a short time and emphasises our notoriety amongst people who were perhaps unaware of just how many Smokie songs they know. With another four shows to go I expect to get much the same reaction. It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be so well received at Wembley Arena, just as it was so heartening to feel the real warmth behind the applause at Manchester Evening News Arena. I am loving this tour and I hope that there will be an opportunity to do a similar thing again in the future. The indications at the moment are that this may be possible.
Last night was a great opener for the UK Arena Tour. Now the whole touring party have been introduced there is already a feeling that we are just one large family working together. The atmosphere, both backstage and out front, is extremely convivial. Our audience greeted us with great warmth, letting us know that they were out to thoroughly enjoy the evening and all the hits we had to offer in our short set (30 minutes). Now we are familiar with our surroundings and everyone involved in this tour all we have to do is enjoy the next 6 shows. That will be easy to do!
A massive crowd thronged Tinghallen in Viborg and filled the hall from front to back, there being little room to move around. This presented Smokie with an ideal atmosphere for the acoustic set because of the very close contact with the audience. Somehow the set worked very well in this venue because the hall was so full. It was clear that, although our standing audience had been listening intently, they were ready for the electric set and all the hits we serve up during that part of the programme. This mini Danish tour has been immensely successful and has really confirmed our association with the Danish audiences. Some are even now counting down the days until our return to this immensely hospitable country. I make that around 33 weeks and 5 days, or 236 days, to be precise. I expect that time will pass quickly, as it always does.
The release of this year's Christmas Beer is a major and memorable event in Denmark. When that release coincides with a Smokie gig there are two strong forces in action (remember Physics at school?). It's not exactly that they were equal and opposite forces, but there were certain "gravitational" attractions that needed to be taken into account, to be specific (beer drinkers will get that joke). Our festive audience made a good job of listening intently to our acoustic set, yet it was obvious that they wanted the party bit as soon as possible. That is no problem for Smokie because we are a party band. When the climax came it was a big one and our audience showed their appreciation in the usual way. It is very often said that we should play new material, and we listen to this request and deliver new songs and new arrangements. However, it always remains true that the songs which are mostly keenly enjoyed at our live shows are the ones that everyone knows best. That is just how things work for Smokie. Tonight we repeat the performance in Viborg before bidding our Danish fans a fond farewell for this year.
Driving through country lanes, it was hard to imagine that there would be, just round the corner, a sizeable hall that is suitable for a rocking gig. That's exactly what we found in Kvaershallen in the small community of Grasten. Such a special event for this location called for some attention to detail and that resulted in some really first class hospitality. It felt like Grasten had really rolled out the red carpet for Smokie and were already enjoying the event before it even started. Last night was the first of three Danish gigs in which we play a double set. The running order was tried and tested in Australia and continues to give a great taster of songs from all four decades in either acoustic or electric form. After leaving our audience feeling very mellow we then ramp up the volume to play a strong collection of hits at volume. The formula is a real winner and we were rewarded with a rapturous response from the crowd. This type of show demands energy and there was no shortage of that in the steamy Kvaershallen. The first set lasts around 40 minutes, which is ten minutes longer than our entire show at Wembley next week.
Yes, I know it says "Are", but I think it's pronounced "orra". I have to say that we had one of the finest views from the function room of the Holiday Club Hotel, looking out over a floodlit ski slope. The snow wasn't particularly thick at this time of year but the temperature was decidedly chilly for October. Our first priority was to rehearse for the Danish shows and then run through the two songs - "One more miracle" and "I know who I am" for this week's recording session in Castleford. The real surprise, for us, was the fantastic reaction we got from our dinner guests. In no way did the fact that they were packed and trapped amongst the tables detract from their enjoyment of the show. What Smokie gave out we received back in large quantities. We left our audience at 8.30 p.m. wanting more - a lot more than just dinner. I know not what happened after that, but I met a lot of the audience who were very keyed up after the show and felt a huge anticlimax after we left the stage. There could be no better feeling after such an event.
I have so many memories as I fly in to Kristiansand Airport, for it was the first place I ever visited outside the UK. That was 41 years ago when I was just 15. The music I brought with me was unfamiliar to my hosts; it was 1971 and progressive rock was happening. My Norwegian friends laughed when Led Zepellin came on the radio. I was offended because that was the music I was enjoying back at home. Even Smokie hadn't yet come on to the music scene. Last night we played at the Dark Season Festival, an event which is now in its 15th year and one that we last played 5 years ago. I am told that this was a record breaking crowd and the festival organisers were highly delighted with the response. There is no doubt that the audience were on top form. The festival is aptly named since it is noticeably darker now; people are in the mood for a good post-summer celebration and they showed their appreciation in large measures when Smokie hit the stage. Our popularity in Norway is undeniable and it is great to have such a loyal following in this beautiful country. Our next stop is in Sweden where I expect we can look forward to a similar response.
The capacity audience at the VW Halle in Braunschweig saw Smokie play an earlier show than the previous night in Hamburg. It was a great relief to be on earlier because we had the crowd's full attention while they were still feeling most energetic. Their response was tremendous and we were made to feel very welcome. Last night marked the end of the German part of this year's tour, which leaves the Danish, English, Swedish, Norwegian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish and Estonian dates to see us until the end of the year. How fast 2012 is progressing. We are even making time to return to the studio to record another two tracks. I think we are looking at a busy 2013. Let's not hurry things just yet.
Smokie's return to Hamburg and, in particular, to the Sporthalle was received with rapturous applause. It is nine years since we have played in this area, concentrating mostly on the southern part of Germany during this period. It was a great pleasure to be back and to be welcomed with such great enthusiasm. Our tour schedule for next year takes in many shows in Germany and, I am happy to say, it is something I look forward to with eager anticipation.
An enormous crowd filled the familiar three-tiered entertainment room on board the Cinderella. Apparently this was the biggest turnout they had seen to date. Smokie were given an extremely enthusiastic reception as we hit the stage on board this "booze cruise". It's all fun and frolics onboard and the mood is very lighthearted and happy, which goes perfectly with what we are serving. As always there is an open invitation to return and I expect that we will do exactly that at some point in the future.
After a high-speed train ride we arrived in Seoul in good time for the first of the two shows at KBS 88. It was due to the high demand for tickets that the matinee performance was added in only as recently as Monday this week. Our afternoon audience gave us a real capital city welcome. There was a short break between gigs to allow us to regain our energy and indulge in the first round of KFC before treading the boards again and finding our evening audience supercharged and well-armed with glow sticks, mobile phones and iPads, as is the trend over here in South Korea. Until recently our gig in Busan had been the best so far in this country but this final show in Seoul topped the lot.
Already there is talk of our return to the republic in 2014. I believe we may have consolidated our position over here with our TV appearance, our live shows and our Masterclasses. This four-date tour was perhaps a taster of bigger plans for the future. I shall always welcome our return to this fascinating, high-tech, clean and well-mannered country. As they say in Korea -
감사하십시오 (kam sam i dah).
South Korea is one of the places Smokie tours where “Who the F*** is Alice?” is not sung. In keeping with their very excellent manners they can’t be expected to know or to participate in such a version. This in no way detracts from the enormous enjoyment that the audience are obviously feeling and communicating to the band and it doesn’t change a thing as far as the live show is concerned because Smokie always plays the song in its original form. It’s only the audience who reply with the updated version. There was a huge response, as had been promised, at The Cinema Centre in Busan last night. I had been told that people in this region are a little more demonstrative and this turned out to be true. This partly open air venue next to the sea created a stunning backdrop for one of our best performances of all time in South Korea. It will surely go down as one of the top five gigs of the year. We move onwards to Seoul where we have two gigs before leaving immediately for the airport and boarding the early morning flight back to the UK. The journey time for me will be around 29 hours – longer than it takes to get to Australia.
The Smokie Autumn Tour of South Korea kicked off at the Exco Centre in Taegu. A stunning backdrop and impressive lights made this first show one to remember. The audience warmed quickly to our performance and did what happens naturally at Smokie gigs - they came right to the front of the stage to be as near to the action as possible. The Koreans have impeccable manners and it is lovely to see them getting so lost in the music and hanging loose for a while. Today we are at the seaside town of Busan where I think I shall be enjoying the last of the sun's heat for this year. Back to sweaters and boots when I get home.
The students of Chugye University for the Arts were keen to learn about Smokie's methods yesterday. My own class comprised of several young composers and their lecturer. I loved this opportunity to interact with some of Korea's finest musicians and share philosophies. As a seasoned professional I sometimes forget just how much I have learned on the way that could be of use to a musician who is starting their journey.
I am often asked whether Smokie actually see anything of the place where they are performing. Today we were treated to a visit to the Palace as well as a walk around one of the biggest music stores in the world, "Paradise". In the evening the chosen restaurant was bulgogibros, where we were treated to a variety of Korean fare including a rather hot North Korean dish. Tomorrow I shall be taking a keyboard Masterclass at the University of Arts in Seoul. This is quite a new experience for me and one I am very much looking forward to.
Today marks the end of my summer break and a lengthy journey to Seoul via Aberdeen and Manchester. Predictably enough this is one of the hottest days since I arrived back in Scotland for a four-week change of scenery. Perhaps there will be an Indian summer in October! Why not? After all, we had an early summer in March and a strange return to spring in June and July. Who knows what the seasons will serve up next? I have the barbecue ready for cooking outdoors on Christmas Day. Talking of which, I am just planning my yearly attack on the Christmas Tree for around the end of November. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to Etihad's business class and a chance to catch some of the movies I missed the first time.
For the last gig of the summer it was appropriate that Smokie were in such a familiar place as Randers. Our history with this part of Denmark goes back a long way and particularly to the time of our recordings at PUK Studio. We almost have a "home town" audience who made us feel that we really belong in this part of the world. We played in the familiar tent that is home to a week-long festival at this time of year. It's the final summer celebration before schools return. Now we take a break for a month before continuing with the South Korean tour in September.
From my room I look out over acres of vineyards. It's like being in Tuscany in Italy. The fields look like they have been disciplined by a sargeant major. Not a vine out of line. The buildings echo this fantastic affinity for order. I am in the wine growing area of Germany.
This is Smokie's penultimate show before the summer break and the weather is being very kind to us. It's not as hot as Malta but it is comfortably warm and sunny. Our German audience gave us a very big welcome. This show marks the end of one of our toughest weeks of the year during which we flew more often than we performed - a massive 11 flights in 7 days. It's been an adventure, yet it will be nice to be home on a Saturday for a change. I have the closing ceremony of the Olympics to look forward to as well as an impressive number of meteors during the early morning Perseid Shower on 12th August. Don't forget to make a wish if you see one of these "shooting stars".
From the moment I arrived on the island of Malta it was clear that there had been a lot of publicity for the show in Ghaxaq. The reason is that the concert was free to everybody and all donations are for the cancer charity. On arrival I was met by a team of journalists and directed to a press conference at the airport. At the time our hosts were talking in terms of hoping for 7,500 people to attend. The actual figure was probably more than twice that. The showground and all the surrounding area was packed with people, a lot of whom were unable to gain entry to the grounds but were happy to be able to hear the concert from outside. Smokie could not have made a more dramatic entrance since we were driven in three veteran Rolls Royces that were accompanied by a motorcade of 44 motorcycles and police bikes. It was a sure way of drawing attention to ourselves as we cruised through the streets of Malta on our way to the venue. To say that the streets were full of people is an understatement. The scene was a little like we experienced in Aizawl, India in 2006. A massive number of security officers shepherded us past the barriers to the sound of a rapturous crowd. People held out their hands just to touch us as we walked past. The love from the people was overwhelming, and their enthusiasm never let up for even a second during this magnificent show. Pyrotechnics exploded at regular intervals, taking us by surprise on most occasions. From a high point on a tower adjacent to the grounds a Maltese flag was being waved rhythmically with the music. I am guessing that the flag waiver has rather sore shoulders today after keeping this action going for so long. The view from the stage was breathtaking and unforgettable. I hope that the money raised from this well-planned and triumphant event will help to fight the causes and effects of the disease that affects every family. To beat cancer would be to end a huge amount of unnecessary suffering, and that is a cause worth fighting for.
Saturday 4th August had "success" written all over it. On the face of it there were challenges to live up to, yet the final result appeared effortless and relaxed. A massive crowd awaited us at Vesterhavsrock in Fjerritslev in hot sunny conditions. They sung their hearts out and showed their disappointment when it was time for Smokie to leave the stage. In the backstage area we were greeted by eleven Norwegians who had made the trip especially to see Smokie play live. A camera crew recorded the greeting and cameras clicked continuously.
However, it was soon time to depart for Alborg Airport and our private flight to Karlstad. A Citation 7 jet bore us smoothly and rapidly to Karlstad Airport in just 30 minutes. The airport was officially closed so that there was a hefty fee to open it exclusively for us so we could be in the right part of Sweden for our second gig of the day. A stretch limo awaited us and took us to our hotel for a casual dinner and a short rest before setting off for the Folk Park where another big crowd were waiting. Back at the hotel we had been mesmerised by Team GB's success in picking up further golds in the 2012 Olympics. It appeared that nothing could go wrong on this remarkable day and our gig in Karlstad continued the trend.
There is definitely something special happening for Smokie in these Scandinavian territories. We seem to have hit a new high in popularity without knowing what has sparked this trend. Our audiences are really showing us a lot of warmth and respect and they are being rewarded with some of the best concerts we have ever played.
Now I embark on a punishing travel schedule which sees me going home for four hours in the middle of the night to pack another case and get on the red eye flight from Inverness, on my way to Malta. A camera crew will await me at the airport in Valetta and I just hope I am able to appear bright and alert even if I don't feel it. Perhaps the excitement of the last few days will carry me through. It's a high that I don't wish to lose.
The big tent at Borkhonefest was full to capacity as Smokie took to the stage. The familiar sight of spinning fairground rides met us as we approached. It looked like a party venue if ever there was one. The crowd rose to the challenge and returned a loud and vociferous reaction to our set. It could easily have been a long night of celebration and table football except for the fact that we have two shows in two countries today and need to conserve a bit of energy for later. This is an interesting part of our touring year. I look forward to the challenge.
The town of Rattvik was enjoying an all-day procession of American cars, the biggest I have ever seen. I even wondered if there are more American cars here than in America. The result was a near standstill on the roads and a chance to take a really close look at some of these models. Eventually we reached the familiar flooded quarry which is Dalhalla. We last played this gig in 2007 and it's an unforgettable venue due to the sheer size and scale of the quarry walls and the enormous amphitheatre which it houses. It seats around 4,000 people, most of whom were present last night. A stretch of water separates the band from the audience so that there is no chance to shake hands with anyone from onstage. Regardless of this the communication with the crowd was unhindered as their voices rang out through the microphones which were placed at either side of the stage to catch their reactions (also known in the business as ambient mikes). If I never get a chance to play a flooded quarry again I shall always treasure the memory of Dalhalla.
While in Britain the Olympic Opening Ceremony was under way Smokie took to the stage at Tollboden in Moss. A day of sun, sea and pizza mellowed the mood and the resulting show, alongside the water's edge, had an atmosphere of happy celebration. Norwegians confirmed that summer had come late and was only here for three days before a return to the cold and cloudy conditions of previous weeks. The only thing to do was to get outside and stay there until properly cooked in true Brit fashion. Now I can look forward to the pleasant cooling sensation of tepid rain to ease the sunburn.
Since Smokie's last appearance at Wrightegaarden there have been a few upgrades to the venue. It occupies a charming location in the centre of a very quaint waterside development that dates back to 1838. During Summer there are frequent shows held at this lovely venue from June to August. If you can think of a famous name of a band or individual there's a good chance that they have performed here. This was Smokie's third appearance, the last two being in 2006 and 2008. Tonight the venue was packed to bursting and everyone appeared ready to make a memorable evening. It helped that our onstage time was 8.00 p.m. because there was a lot of energy in the audience. Today had been the first hot day in this area and another one is promised tomorrow. Smokie can enjoy a day off in this beautiful location and a chance to kick back before embarking on a punishing schedule next week.
The Vig Festival is a major event in this part of Denmark, pulling in crowds of 20,000 and more. Smokie have been so busy touring every summer that we have been unavailable to book for this major and well organised event. Our last appearance in Vig was in 1999, so that gives you some idea just how busy we have been. It was a great pleasure to be back on the show and to help to bring some decent weather to the area. There had been thunderstorms in the afternoon that cleared perfectly in time for our set. The mighty crowd were in good voice and enjoyed drying out to a few of their favourite tunes. Smokie now take a break for 8 days before taking the show to Norway. I have something special to look forward to because I shall be attending a wedding on Saturday. Having missed most of the home celebrations for the last 24 years I may find myself in unfamiliar territory. The wedding suit is understandably absent since I have never needed one. Do I wear odd shoes on the day? I think people might expect it. Perhaps I should conform and be "normal" for a day. Can you imagine that? Well, it's all good experience.
The Orbaek Festival has been running for the last thirty years. The venue itself is a big tent surrounded by fairground rides. The tent was full to bursting and there were many more people standing outside who had a view of the stage. After a rare day of sunshine the mood was celebratory and the audience were eager to party with Smokie. This was our first time at this festival and I am guessing that it won't be our last.
Not even lost equipment in Amsterdam could mar the otherwise perfect evening in the town square in Vordingborg. Around 10,000 people filled the square and some spilled out on to what was aptly named "Smokie Mound" because it was reminiscent of the familiar patch of ground at Wimbledon. Even the weather put on a special show for us and the sun shone for the entire show, only retreating behind rain clouds again after we left the stage. Perhaps we have finally shaken off the old habit of bringing on precipitation by singing "Have you ever seen the rain?". It was good to see our Danish audience again and to know that we will be returning in August to play in Jutland at some very familiar venues. In the meantime we will be in Orbaek and Vig over the next couple of days - both of these are new venues for us so there are still places in Denmark which give us a fresh experience.
The Storefjell Hotel and Resort cuts an impressive shape into the mountain close to Gol in Norway. And mountains are places which are increasingly appearing on Smokie's date sheet. It's all familiar territory for me because I live amongst the mountains in The Highlands, yet it is still a great thrill to be amongst the more loftier Norwegian variety. The hotel is a perfect retreat for de-stressing due to its remote location. Last night it hosted Smokie's live show to a packed events hall. There was an atmosphere of celebration from the moment we first set foot in the door. We mingled with the crowd from the moment we checked in to the moment we left the hotel at 5.00 this morning. It would be hard to imagine so intimate a show running any better than it did last night. It would have been good to have spent longer in this resort hotel since it has so much to offer but, as is normal for us, we always rush in and out in a short space of time.
Today I travel home on my birthday, reaching my final destination around 7 this evening. As it happens I have already celebrated the occasion with my family earlier in the week. There is much to do in the two days before I set off for Denmark, so it is as well that I have already enjoyed the gifts and cake. Thank you to everybody for their kind birthday wishes.
Hattfjelldal is a very small town. From the hotel we can see the town, the stage and the airfield. We arrived in four single engine light aircraft from Rost, a journey of one hour and forty five minutes. The sky darkened and deposited lots of rain on this little town. However, all was clear for the evening and the crowd gathered round the stage from the first note to the last. Smokie's two-day experience has been an interesting and challenging one. So often we are invited to play in very remote places which are difficult to reach and, when we finally arrive, it is clear that all the effort was worthwhile. Our journey home begins in those small light aircraft and then on three further flights to our UK airports. I think I get home about 12.45 a.m. tomorrow. But what an adventure!
Our hosts on the lovely island of Rost have shown us great hospitality during our time here. Our brief visit included a two-hour boat trip around the islands to view seals and birdlife. There is a very relaxed and calm mood here which easily spreads amongst its visitors. The emphasis at last night's show at Querinihallen was on family. As we have so often noticed in Norway there are three generations of people in attendance at the show. Many very young people were at the front of the stage and really showing us an enthusiastic reaction to our music. I understand that it is customary for children from the age of 16 to move to high school in Bodo since the island doesn't support that level of education. Everyone I met was cheery and friendly. This is a real community with people who watch out for each other. They were unanimous in their delight to finally have Smokie playing in their community. What a pleasure for us as well.
We Smokie guys get some real opportunities during our illustrious career and one such opportunity is in the form of travel to remote and unusual locations. We took no less than five flights to reach our destination yesterday and arrived in Rost in the Lofoten Islands, west of Bodo in Norway. I have taken a good walk round the island this morning and made a few observations. We are in the land of the midnight sun, so there is no darkness at all. This gives an opportunity to explore for a full 24 hours in excellent light conditions. As with many parts of Norway there is a strong association with the water. Seabirds fill the air continuously. Killer whales and seals are close to the Bryggehotell from where we will take a RIB craft today to explore our surroundings. It really is a paradise with a difference and is particularly welcome at this time as we are sitting well north of the extreme conditions which are affecting the UK at present. Apparently the low pressure is on its way tomorrow by which time we will be back in the air and on our way to Hattfjelldal. For further information on Rost take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Røst
A once large and successful shoe factory made an excellent site for a Smokie concert in Kornwestheim, near Stuttgart. The courtyard at Salamander Areal even had great acoustics for the event. There was plenty of seating for those who wished to sit down, but that changed early in the set as the audience gained in inspiration. Inside the office area a continuous open lift system provided amusement whilst we waited to hit the stage. Smokie's show marked the end of a four-day festival at this venue, and one which may well be repeated.
The atmosphere in Mestni Park was highly charged as Smokie took to the stage. Not even a disappointing result from the penalty shootout in the England versus Italy game could wipe the sheen off so perfect an evening. The park was full, the air was hot and the audience were ready for a party. Our second appearance in Slovenia, or maybe I should say sLOVEnia, this year was an unsurpassed success. More visits to this part of the world are already in the planning stage and I shall be happy to return.
The black clouds cleared after the previous night's massive thunderstorm to leave a perfectly clear sky on a hot sunny evening in Buchlovice. The attendance at the castle matched that of our previous visit on 23rd May 2008 and the response was every bit as good. To look out on a sea of faces and see everyone enjoying the evening so much is the best any entertainer can experience. The audience and band were like one huge single entity, moving together and celebrating together. Dreams do come true, and last night's show was a real dream.
Nestled into pretty surroundings high above sea level in Wolfhalden was the festival known as "Rock the Wolves". Even at this altitude the sun was roasting hot and the audience were keen as mustard. Perfect conditions for a great music night, and that is exactly what happened. Some people had travelled a great distance to see the show, including a few who had been present in Dietikon the night before. There's always a big welcome for Smokie in Switzerland and the outdoor gigs happen in all seasons. Last night just happened to perfectly co-incide with a ridge of high pressure. It's just as likely that next time we will be playing up a mountain in deep snow to a crowd of skiers dressed in snow gear. Variety is the spice of life!
There's nothing like a gig in a tin shed to set temperatures rising. This particular tin shed was Sounddock 14 in Dietikon, a venue which was due to close its doors for ever after this evening's show. There was a mixture of sadness and elation since the gig was not just sold out but there had been many requests for tickets over the last few days which had been impossible to fulfil. There is only one last night, it cannot be repeated. Smokie were honoured to be asked to play the final show at this popular venue. The air was suitably steamy and the atmosphere was terrific. In addition to a great gig we had the extra pleasure of finding out that England had beaten Sweden 3-2 in the Euro 2012 match that finished just as we left the stage. Sometimes things just work out perfectly and last night was one of those occasions.
An impressive procession passed through the picturesque village of Drumnadrochit, home of Nessie, on Saturday 9th June. For a look at some of the footage click on the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZddA4T4pyY
It was good to have all our own gear back again after it was located in Amsterdam. There was a huge line-up of acts at The Konig Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen for a show that began at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Our audience had already seen nearly nine hours of entertainment before Smokie hit the stage. However, there was no sign that the crowd were weary and they greeted us with rapturous applause and enthusiastic reactions. Tomorrow we take a short break, including a weekend off. I shall be able to witness the Olympic Torch come through the village of Drumnadrochit on 9th June and also sketch out some ideas for the sixth track from "The Code Within". I expect the garden will also present a few new challenges for me during the week, as it usually does at this time of year. In the meantime there are two days of celebration in aid of our queen's Diamond Jubilee. Plenty of partying to be done.
It's the first day of Summer and the festivals have started across Europe. It can also mean a little bit of disruption when it comes to trying to get all the band's gear and personal luggage to their destination. Such a problem occurred today and presented a challenge for Smokie to present the same show while using unfamiliar equipment. The result was good, the sound was terrific and the audience were happy. Now we just need to link up with all that equipment in Berlin before travelling on to Dusseldorf for tomorrow's gig in Oberhausen. It's all in a day's work.
Sauda was baking hot as we stepped off the ferry in the early afternoon. It's such a pleasure to find such a pretty town enjoying an unusual burst of high pressure instead of the cool rainy conditions which Norway has so often experienced at this time of year. The heat lifted everyone's mood and the crowd identified with every song and gave an ecstatic reaction to the show. There was just one question as we left the stage - will we come again? If they're asking then we are coming. It's a date and I look forward to our next appearance here. We will be back on the fjord again at 7.45 in the morning. I expect the cool wind on the top deck might help to ease the sunburn from the previous day.
It was an auspicious night on which to set off for the Dortmund Westfalenhalle since the Munich v. Chelsea game was in full swing. Extra time just delayed the agony but the result justified the wait. Even the Oldiemarathon's timing was adjusted accordingly. As Smokie took to the stage the audience were mostly unaware of the result of the penalty shootout, or even that there had been one. But they were on good form and gave us a rousing welcome. Nothing gets in the way of a good night out and it seemed that both German and English fans were prepared to accept the result however it turned out. I have not personally been a football supporter but I have to say that last night's game was too exciting to ignore. Smokie will be back in Germany again in two weeks.
It's been another historic day, this time in Germany's oldest city, Trier. A day off between gigs gave me a chance to have a look around the Basilica and gardens and marvel at the wondrous statues. Much of the Roman influence remains and it is juxtaposed with the more modern side to 21st Century living, like Pizza Hut and C&A. It seems that lessons were learned from the first night in Bamberg and the show at Arena Trier ran like clockwork with perfect timing and excellent sound. The audience responded accordingly and gave us a mighty round of applause at the end of our 60-minute slot. Our German tour moves on to a very familiar piece of real estate, i.e. Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, where we have performed very many times in the past. Even the sun was shining to welcome our return to this great city. I think there will be very much interest in the outcome of a certain football game tonight. Both the English and the Germans are looking forward to it with great anticipation.
I was lucky enough to be in Bamberg for an extra day and took the opportunity to look around. It's an impressive city with enormous history, as you will see if you take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamberg. My reason for being here, of course, is not as a tourist but as a touring musician. There's not much difference really except that I go to work in the evening after a day of viewing the sights. The Stechert Arena was the setting for the first of three Oldiemarathons this week. Marathon is actually a very apt title since it is the audience who enjoy a long run of favourite artists. Between 7.00 p.m. and 12.45 a.m. the music is non stop. You need stamina to fully enjoy the experience and our audience certainly had plenty of it. By the time Smokie struck our final chord the audience were all on their feet. It was the best way to celebrate and keep warm in this coldest May since records began. Perhaps a little more of the same will help to stabilise the planet's weather conditions.
Inspiration has again struck and the fifth track for "The Code Within", titled "Ascension", is recorded and mastered. As mentioned on the home page I plan to upload a fuller version of the album in September when more tracks are ready.
I had a tune in my head since my father died in September 2006 and I needed to create this piece in his memory. I am very happy with the results and also with the progress on the album. It is quite likely that I shall have all nine tracks by the end of the year but, if not, I shall carry the project into 2013 and make the album longer. Time is not important since I am the artist, the engineer, the publisher and the record company.
So far the musical backing is complete for two songs, "Help me remember" and "Love is all we've got" and work begins on the third song "Baby, this ship ain't going down" in the morning. The songs are sounding great and the final mixes should produce some top class Smokie material for the next album.
Our Belarus adventure ended at the brand new Minsk House of Culture, where the audience gave us a very warm welcome with rapturous applause. A beautiful evening ended happily in an intimate restaurant where our guests were similarly hospitable. Now starts the long trip home via Manchester.
In a brand new Palace of Culture Smokie celebrated our return to Gomel. There was little time to walk round this beautiful city with its immaculate park, but we were honoured with the opportunity to watch the Chelsea versus Barcelona game in a Cinema Cafe after the show. Today we make an early start for Minsk and our final show before I make the long trek home via Manchester and Tees-side.
During the afternoon in Bobruisk Smokie visited a school specialising in the English language. There we gave a press conference and answered questions from many bright young students. We were also treated to an impromptu version of “Alice” that was sung by some of the students. Many of those present attended the show at The Ice Palace.
This was Smokie’s first appearance in Bobruisk and it was an unqualified success, prompting our hosts to request our return next year.
The town’s name takes its meaning from beavers, so that Bobruisk is literally “beaver town’ – a name which causes merriment in rock and roll circles.
Chesterfield is not only notable for having a cathedral with a crooked spire but also for being home to a good number of Smokie fans, many of whom were at the show last night at The Winding Wheel. This was our third appearance at the venue and the best night we have enjoyed there to date. It was the final night of the UK mini-tour and it brought the tour to a very happy ending. Some of our fans have followed us throughout this tour and have commented that the sound was excellent. There are more UK dates in the planning which I shall post on this website very soon. Now I can enjoy a day of mystery and intrigue and see where my instincts lead me. Will it be the seaside? I shall find out shortly.
The Picturedrome in Holmfirth has a certain rock and roll charm which may be summed up nowadays as "shabby chic". It is a favourite venue for locals and has attracted the attention of many a touring band. It was Smokie's turn last night to make the walls tremble and the people jump up and down, all of which we did successfully. I couldn't resist the temptation to play a little practical joke on my colleagues. This I did by playing the theme tune to "The Last of the Summer Wine" instead of playing the intro to "Will you still love me tomorrow?". Unprepared as they were for this assault, it cracked them up with laughter from which they had to recover before launching into the well-known ballad. I expect that the people of Holmfirth are very accustomed to references to the long-running TV comedy series, but they still appreciated the surprise. Anyone who has been exposed to the "Wallace and Gromit" films will immediately be reminded of them by the voice of Peter Sallis. Holmfirth rocked last night and yet, as we drove into it earlier in the evening, it seemed much too charming a place to succumb to loud music. What a pleasant surprise for all of us. Our Yorkshire audience did us proud. I think we will be back.
In the land of salty sea air, fish and chips and amusement arcades Smokie were given a massive welcome at the Embassy Theatre. Even though the weather is still cool and breezy there was a certain seasonal nonchalance prevalent. The audience weren't quite ready to take off all their clothes and prance around, as invited by Mike, but they were in celebratory mood. An interesting fact emerged as a result of an email from Chris Tarrant, presenter of "Who wants to be a millionaire?". On the occasion of the first episode Chris sang "Living next door to Alice" as he left the dressing room. Apparently it has become a well-worn habit and he has continued doing it for over 600 episodes since the programme first appeared on national television. That's the spirit, Chris. Maybe he can continue singing when the cameras start to roll.
A sellout concert at the lovely old Darlington Civic Theatre began this mini UK tour after the Easter break. During the afternoon Smokie were involved with a film shoot for Russian TV with special relevance to the Olympic Games. Track suits were optional. The show featured one of the Russian people's favourite songs, "What can I do?", that featured our presenter, Dmitri, singing along with an acoustic guitar. The final edit will appear on national television.
Back to the tour, and each night the show is opened with an acoustic set by Stu Page and his son Tom. The audience rewarded us richly with a very vociferous rendition of the songs they knew best. It was a very strong start to the tour and one that has attracted many invitations for us to return soon.
Good humour abounded last night at Smokie's final show on the Swedish Tour. The audience seem to appreciate the fact that a closing night has special features and that, in a way, they are getting extra bits in the show as a result. More and more it seems that "live" bands are appreciated for the ad libs and the human element that goes into a live performance. There is even a case for putting some of that looseness into a recording, as we did on "Take a minute". Our public are seeing Smokie as we really are and it's refreshing to keep this honesty in the show. Meeting the fans at the signing session after the gig also helps to bring us all closer. Thank you to all of our Swedish fans for being with us on this tour. We shall return in the summer.
There was definitely something in the air last night for the shouts and applause from the audience were a little bit louder and the dancing a little more energetic. Perhaps it had something to do with the St Patrick's Day celebrations. I noticed, on my way back to the hotel, that the streets were full of revellers and the bars looked full to bursting. With only one week before the clocks go forward again there seems already to be a spring awakening. Smokie's tour of Sweden draws to a close tonight with a final show in Vaxjo. I have enjoyed this tour immensely and look forward to returning to Sweden again in the summer and also in December.
One of the best ways of getting a reaction from an audience is by waving their country's flag in front of them. That certainly brought a huge vociferous reaction last night, as did the invitation to join in with the songs that they knew; a big "OK" came the reply. Our audience at Halmstad Teater were sure they were going out for a good time and that made for a very easy evening of entertainment. It was one of those nights that just passed too quickly. It seemed to me that we had hardly started before it was time to wrap things up. There is a saying that time passes more quickly when you are enjoying yourself. This was never truer than last night.
Lorensbergsteatern is so close to the Konserthuset in Gothenburg that it's nearly possible to step in the wrong door. The atmosphere the moment we walked into the venue was cosy and friendly. We have stayed next door to this lovely theatre for many of our visits to Gothenburg yet this was our first concert there. Our Smokie audience were highly receptive and in good party spirit. As the weekend approaches people seem to loosen up a bit, perhaps because they can leave the responsibilities of work behind for a while and escape into the world of music. That's Smokie's world most of the time, so my escape is into the world of book-keeping for the band. That's what keeps my feet planted on the ground. Lovely as it would be to only think about music, I do need to have a regular dose of reality to remind me that there is life outside of entertainment. For the moment, though, it's all about music.
The news that the planets Jupiter, Venus and Mars were clearly visible in the night sky came shortly after hearing that the show was at 7.00 p.m. and not at 7.30 p.m. as the schedule stated. This caused a sudden rush to try to take in the impressive view of the sky as well as prepare to be on stage. The upshot was that the intro was running as we came back from marvelling at planets and the show started abruptly. However, this brief astronomical episode may well have given added inspiration to our performance. Not even technical hitches could throw us off course for they were handled with great ease. The audience at Jonkoping's Kulturhuset enjoyed a very relaxed show that may well have been the result of two very easy days in Stockholm.
I took the opportunity to take a walk around Uppsala before the show and found a city of great beauty. I was reminded very much of Cambridge because of all the bicycles, the university, the cathedral, the river and the very lovely architecture. The city oozes culture. It is no surprise, then, that we had a cultured audience at Konsert and Kongress last night. Sunday night always has a different feel to it because people have had the day to themselves and a chance to reflect on the week that passed and the one to come. Regardless of this the audience reacted with great enthusiasm to Smokie's performance. Now we have two days to do some of our own reflecting and maybe come up with some new song material since we are considering going back into the studio shortly. All free time is valuable for such matters and there is no time like the present to grab that opportunity.
Breaking away from Stockholm, we hit that E18 for the first time. Our Swedish tour is well planned and gives ample time for rest in between shows. This is well reflected in the energy behind the performances. Last night's concert at Gavle's Konserthus was highly energetic and was rewarded with similar enthusiasm from the audience. Smokie's return to full Swedish touring has been an unqualified success, paving the way for future returns to this country. The tour moves on today to Uppsala and an opportunity for some of our members to catch a football game.
I am reliably informed that the PA that Smokie used at Vasteras Konserthus last night had only been previously used by Madonna and Lady Gaga. Considering their personal tastes for high fidelity I was not at all surprised to hear that our sound was crisp and punchy and filled the auditorium with sweet high definition sound. The audience were delighted and rewarded us with very warm applause. This Swedish tour comprises of some very familiar venues to which we have become very accustomed. It's good to be back on full Swedish tours again after an absence of a few years. Smokie plan to meet our audience every night and sign autographs at the merchandise stall each evening. That is always a pleasure as well as a great way to find out exactly what the people thought of the show.
It was a repeat show at Rival, this time without the cameras and location recording. It would have been a very fine night to make a DVD since the audience were on such good form. Spring is almost in the air and people seem to be shaking off their winter sleepiness in favour of a more energetic and enthusiastic mood. Smokie are back on tour and that means lots of shows in a great variety of countries. The airlines must be delighted. Not even Coronal Mass Ejections from the sun have prevented a show which was destined to happen. Luckily the crew made it to the gig with a few minutes to spare after a flight delay from Leeds Bradford. It's all part of the rich tapestry of touring. I wonder what today has in store for us. I know what the schedule says, but is that the whole story? We shall see.
I may take the words to "Living Next Door to Alice" quite literally today since it is my 24th anniversary of being part of this amazing band. My origins are printed on this website so there is no need to remind you where it all started for me. What shall I do to celebrate this landmark? Answer: take two flights to Sweden, of course. What else?
I have uploaded the video to "Not Far Away" to YouTube. The movie was kindly created by Daniella Seggewiss. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH6eOrNaSF0&list=UU26J3tD6UgUw9UDE7I72MQw&index=1&feature=plcp
The Rica Sunnfjord Hotel in Forde is a repeat booking for Smokie. Our last appearance here was in September 2009. The show was a sellout that attracted a crowd from much of the surrounding area. Guests booked in to the hotel for the weekend with Saturday night in mind as the big party night. This gig has a lot in common with playing the ships in as much as the audience and the band mix together whenever we leave our rooms. I particularly enjoy this venue for the great atmosphere and powerful sound. When a show goes as well as last night it's a fair bet that we will see this one on our date sheet again in the near future. I shall look forward to playing it again.
Smokie's touring year began with a stunning sellout concert to 4,000 at Ljubljana's Hala Tivoli. It's around twenty years since we were last in Slovenia. Absence makes the heart grow fonder (so it's said) and our absence seemed to coax the crowd into a frenzied reaction. Our promoter told us that no other international band has achieved this result. It was a great way to start 2012, after our January break. Now we have ventured to this part of Europe there is already talk of other bookings in the locality. We have made new friends and that is what touring is all about.
For those who are interested in looking upwards at night time I recommend that you lock on to the co-ordinates 15h 19m 20s, 28deg 58' 28" in the Constellation of Libra. There you may see the star which was named Smokie on 24th December 1997. Next time I am at an observatory with a powerful enough telescope I shall be doing the same. To see the authentication view Smokie's Star on this website.
I've been watching the website tally to see how many people are logging in to this site and am happy to see that I have exceeded the 50,000 mark. Thank you for staying with me. I shall continue to bring you the best of the news about Smokie as well as all developments on "The Code Within". Also there will shortly be another YouTube upload and maybe another personal message. Tour dates are changing every couple of days, so keep looking and you might find Smokie in your neighbourhood.
The Cedar Court was the venue for Smokie's 20th anniversary dinner in aid of The Annette Fox Leukaemia Charity at Bradford Royal Infirmary. There were just short of 400 guests and the function room felt like an improvement on past venues. The stage setting allowed for much better audience contact. It was a great evening and there were many congratulations on achieving this milestone in our fundraising efforts. Regardless of austerity measures people were still able to put their hands in their pockets and produce money in response to Terry's appeal to encourage him to sing "Stand by me". It seems like we have found the right place for our future charity dinners.
When the inspiration comes we just have to go with the flow. That's what I did yesterday and ended up writing and mastering the new track "Merkabah" inside 24 hours. Usually it's not good practice to master on the same day as recording, but I completed most of the music yesterday and just added a few parts today before listening with critical ears. I am happy with the results and look forward to writing another one before uploading the whole album in April. It's been a pleasure to have all the time I needed to create some new pieces. I am back to work with Smokie next week, so things could start to get hectic from now on.
At the beginning of the project I planned to divide the artwork into nine parts and upload a track at a time. However, single uploads are not cost effective so I now intend to provide the whole picture along with the next upload which will include "Cosmic Field", "Light Beings", "Mantras" (new) and "Merkabah" (new and not yet started). The plan is that each year I shall refresh the track listing and keep adding tracks as I have the opportunity. The album will simply grow in time and may well have over nine tracks when finished. That's the plan - let's see what happens.
There's decorating to be done on two properties, so I am turning my hand to brushes and rollers this week to give these places a fresher look. I am greatly aided by the lovely mild weather we are enjoying, which makes it much easier to get around than if I was wading through a foot of snow. In between times I am adding the finishing touches to "Mantras", which was sounding great last time I switched on the Fantom. Holiday? Not for me, thanks.
In some ways tonight's show at The Kremlin Palace was very similar to our appearance there at the end of 2004, yet in other ways it was quite different. The stage set up was far better and the sound was good and rocky. The assembled dignitaries were well into our music and they were at the "letting their hair down" stage of the evening. It is a sobering thought that the most senior of political leaders enjoy boogying along to "Who the fuck is Alice?" Even the security guards seemed to be a lot more relaxed and friendly than in previous times. I think that Russia is learning to hang loose. I can well imagine Smokie getting a third invitation to play at The Kremlin one day. We seem to tick all the right boxes here.
That was the best example of "shaking their asses" I have seen during "And the night stood still" at Apollo Club in Tallinn. The audience were positively rowdy before Smokie hit the stage, which is exactly the right mood for the occasion. This was our final gig before Christmas and what better a place to be than The European Capital of Culture 2011? It will be a great pleasure to be home for Christmas and the New Year. Now I'm looking forward to the big day. Only seven sleeps to go and there will be wild tearing of paper from presents. Last minute arrangements are being made in haste for The Kremlin gig and then I have the whole month of January to build up the energy for another busy touring year. There could be a lot of snow shovelling if last year is any guide.
The introduction music to Smokie's live show, "Blue Intro", has been running for some five years now. I have uploaded the song to You Tube, accompanied by some suitable photos from around the world. Take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTAxddJ_N6g
"O Carol" never sounded better than last night at The Belfast Waterfront where Smokie were joined again by Pat McManus on violin as well as Alex Harris on mandolin. The crowd were keyed up before we hit the stage and they were frenetic by the end of the show. That was our most enthusiastic Christmas celebration to date and it seems likely that any others will seem like an anticlimax after such an energetically charged evening. The Waterfront is an old friend of ours and the people of Belfast make us extremely welcome. I noticed very many faces amongst the audience from other parts of the world as well as other parts of the UK. Belfast has a lot going for it from a tourist's point of view as well as having one of the best venues in Ireland. Smokie could well make this evening a regular fixture in future, date sheet permitting.
"Whiskey in the jar" was never better received than here in Killarney. It's almost an anthem in these parts. It's like going to Ilkley and singing "On Ilkley Moor bah't 'at" (translated: on Ilkley Moor without a hat). No translations were necessary last night and the audience warmed to Smokie as soon as their Christmas Dinner started to digest. I know what it's like to dance vigorously after a heavy meal for I do it every year at the Bradford Charity. Now we have to travel nearly the length of Ireland for our show at The Belfast Waterfront. No snow this year and a much better chance of leaving the country on our chosen flight tomorrow.
If it's Christmas it must be The Traveller's Friend Royal Theatre (shortened to TF). This is a well trodden path for Smokie. For my part I had to divert to Gatwick in order to reach Knock after storm winds put planes in the wrong part of the country yesterday. An adventurous travel day ended in a very familiar gig with an audience who were ready to party. This is the first in a series of shows which anticipate the man in the red suit. Can you hear those bells ringing?
I have never before played in an inflatable hall. There's always a first time, and our venue was one such place. It is set in a water park with tennis courts and other facilities. This is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Moscow and a very pleasant place to finish our mini Russian tour. The reaction has been mighty and there are already discussions being held to bring us back very soon - i.e. some time in December. The year is not over until the final booking is made and, although it looks like we are free after 17th December, the picture could be rather different. Russians wish to see much more of Smokie and we are in a position to make them happy with a 'yes", or a "dah", as it is here.
In the voluminous area occupied by Luzhniki Stadium and its associated halls we played to a capacity house of extremely enthusiastic Muscovites. It was commented that we hadn’t been in Moscow for over three years and the Russians in this area needed their Smokie fix. There was ample opportunity after the show to extend the enjoyment in the form of an after party to which many of the VIP’s and guests were invited. A massive photo session ensued and every combination of guests and band was captured. The music was pumping in true Moscow style and the room was a symphony of fashionistas. What else would you expect in this image conscious city?
Still in the Komi Republic, we moved on to the oil producing town of Ukhta. It was a drive through unspoiled country with very few houses or settlements. The roads were completely covered in snow, but that doesn’t slow traffic at all over here. I spotted the train with the snow plough on the front while on route today. That’s something that we could make good use of in snowy conditions in the UK. Our audience showed their great appreciation at Ukhta’s Palace of Culture. Our Russian adventure takes us back to Syktyvkar before boarding an early flight on Tuesday morning for Moscow and a TV show.
Palace Hotel has an imposing view over the snowy streets of Syktyvkar. It was all rock and roll on the 15th floor where we entertained a select crowd in a room usually associated with cabaret. Rock and roll is, after all, an attitude and not necessarily an image or a place. Just as long as Smokie has its communication with the audience we are happy. It was great to see people being so ecstatic that we made it to their city. With yesterday’s tight connection in Moscow that was quite an achievement.
The inside roof of the Stadthalle in Zwickau resembles an alien craft, as seen in Hollywood’s depiction. However, there was little time to look upwards as we entertained the crowd in this great venue. Germany is one of the last countries on the tour schedule for the “Take a minute” tour that has taken us to 19 countries over a period of 15 months. The new songs were accepted with relish yet the big reaction was still reserved for the classic ‘70s hits. From here we move further east again to Russia after a short break in our homes.
The Christmas kiosks were out in the streets of Cottbus today in readiness for the big run on Gluhwein and hot drinks. Santa is just round the corner – in fact, I think I saw him practising eating mince pies just to get in the mood. The department stores are bulging with fluffy gifts, gadgets and toys, and Smokie are in town. They sort of go together. Well, every day is like Christmas for me, so I never really lose the spirit of celebration that goes with that great event. However, The Stadthalle was home to a multi line-up that included some of our old friends. The audience were on fine form, looking like they were shifting up a gear for the festivities. We have seen less of Germany lately and it’s good to be back here during this season when the streets are so beautifully adorned. When the fog clears there should be a very pretty autumn scene to behold.
It feels like Smokie mania is back in Sweden after the rapturous response at Hotell Sodra Berget in Sundsvall. The audience were with us from the first note to the last, showing their enthusiasm freely. All this comes on a day when we received our new tour schedule for next year (it’s filling up rapidly) that shows that we have a Swedish tour planned for next March as well as a repeat appearance on MS Cinderella in April. It’s great to be back, especially when the crowd give so much back to us. Somehow the show seemed to end too soon, but that’s what happens when everyone is enjoying themselves so much. It’s not our first time at Hotell Sodra Berget and, I expect, it’s probably not our last after receiving the news that we have broken the previous record for ticket sales at this venue. That’s as good as it can possibly be. Farewell Sweden, for now. We’ll be back soon.
Everything was jolly at Merry Can in Ornkoldsvik. The audience were close enough to reach out and help play our instruments and they were packed in so tight that there wasn’t room for even one more. The sound was pumping and, above all, it was hot – just the way we like it. Who needs the gym and the sauna when the gig is so steamy? Everyone likes this sort of gig. There’s only one way in and one way out of the venue and that’s through the audience, and they seem to enjoy the very personal touch this gives the event. If we only ever pass this way once at least we have left a strong footprint in Ornkoldsvik.
Addahallen echoed to the sound of Smokie music and the audience were with us every step of the way. It was a rare honour to find ourselves in Skelleftea and there were some charming remarks from members of the audience after the show. We continue on the “silver highway” on our southerly route which will eventually take us back to Stockholm on Sunday.
A bright sunny day set the mood for a fabulous gig at Lulea’s Kulturens Hus, a place we last visited on 31st October 2007. I remember thinking then, just four years ago, that it’s much too mild here for the building of the ice hotel that is around 30 kilometres from here. The same thought occurred yesterday. We have been blessed with mild weather and an appreciative audience in this very northerly part of Sweden. This mini Swedish tour finds us gradually moving south on what is called “the E4 tour”, for that is the main highway in this part of the world. What a pleasure it is that there are no long journeys and the roads are just perfect.
There are always lots of flowers presented at our shows in The Ukraine. Last night was a little different, however, in as much as flowers kept on being offered at all sorts of times in an ad hoc type of way. Our fans at The Jubilee Cinema in Kherson were overwhelmed and some of them managed to get a chance to tell us after the show. This was Smokie’s first time in this part of The Ukraine and it was a total success. It was a magical end to a very satisfying tour. The journeys have been very long, but that’s how we reach our fans in all corners of this country. Smoother roads would be appreciated, but that could be a long time in coming. I think Smokie will be back many times before the roads are fixed.
The evening began with the customary press conference during which we were asked how it happens that Smokie are in Gorlivka. We replied that firstly we were invited and that it is satisfying to take our music to the remote country locations where there is less chance for people to see an international band. Furthermore we are treated so well when we have these experiences that it would also be a pleasure to return. It’s exactly this reason why our diary fills up so readily each year, making us the busiest touring band on the world circuit. One look at our very eager audience last night at the Cultural Entertainment Centre was enough to reassure us that this situation is in no danger of changing as long as we continue to thrill audiences everywhere we go. I will always cherish the fact that I get a round of applause and lots of lovely comments at the end of my day’s work. Is this good luck at its best? I think so.
We travelled across country on some of the worst roads I have seen. They make the British potholes look like scratches and more accurately resemble earthquake-torn roads. The journey was through extensive agricultural areas which suggest that The Ukraine has the capacity to not only feed itself but also a large portion of Europe. Regardless of this they apparently import much agricultural produce. A day off was very welcome at this stage of the tour, there being some very long journeys yet to cover before we finish here.
The venue in Poltava looked sparkling and fresh. Architecture in The Ukraine is magnificent. The newer structures are built to match the existing ones. The auditorium was full to capacity and the Sunday night audience were there to enjoy themselves. There has been a large proportion of young people in our audiences on this tour, which shows that our music is being passed down through the generations here as it is in Europe and Scandinavia. That bodes well for our future for we can rely on a new generation of fans to keep the fire burning. It’s always the enthusiasm of our fans and promoters that guarantees work for next year and beyond. The truth is that they just don’t want us to stop, or even slow down, and that’s fine with me.
Lights filled the arena at Palace Ukraine as hundreds of mobile phones lit up to the tune of “If you think you know how to love me”. That is one enduring memory of last night’s show here in Kiev. The atmosphere was highly charged. I had the feeling that we could all go the extra mile since we knew that we were going to get an additional hour’s sleep. The night ended with some very energetic dancing at a Georgian restaurant. Now we set off for more distant parts of The Ukraine on this fabulous tour. Wherever we go adventure goes with us.
A longer than anticipated travel day left us under time pressure to prepare for the gig in Odessa. However, a late start is not an unusual thing on this tour of The Ukraine. The audience were thunderous in their applause and strong in voice. When we asked if we could come back there was a unanimous affirmative. I love these sports palaces. With plenty of people inside even the echoes start to fade.
After a very shaky start, which included half the touring party being delayed and missing baggage, we were forced to spend the night in Kiev and drive the following day to Moldova once all luggage had been reclaimed. The 500 km drive included 80 km’s of seriously potholed road on the approach to Pridnestrove, which is a tiny country that has fought for independence from both Moldova and Ukraine. There was no way we would ever be on time for the show in Moldova but we were determined to arrive at some time and put on a show. Better late than never. Crossing borders slowed things down a little. Our audience at The National Palace of Culture were informed that the show would start later than scheduled. We finally hit the stage at 8.15 p.m., back again on familiar ground. Our last appearance at this venue was on 22nd December last year. Some of the band will remember their adventurous journey home for Christmas.
Last night the crowd were on top form, their voices increasing in volume as the show progressed. They gave us a huge welcome as well as a return invitation. It will be good to return, and perhaps we can fly in directly to Moldova next time.
I asked a Norwegian last night if there was any truth in the statistic which was quoted to me in the 1980's about Bergen, namely that there are seven women for every man in this city. Apparently that is not the case; however, glancing around the Askoy Forum during our gig, I could easily have been convinced that there were seven times as many women in the room as there were men. I suppose if you are mostly known for singing love songs you will attract the romantics who are mostly female. That makes our view from the stage very pleasant indeed. It was great to be back in this beautiful part of the world.
For me it's been a day of mystery and intrigue. What started as a routine flight to Manchester from Aberdeen soon became a challenge. Since BMI had only one plane in Aberdeen, and that was crippled by a non specified technical fault, there were few options out of the airport. My old favourite, KLM, was never mentioned, of course because this was a rival airline. Eventually my route was mapped out for me with good connections (on paper) via Heathrow and Munich. But fog and Angela Merkel opening a new runway at Frankfurt caused a backlog of delayed flights and my deadline came closer and closer while I still sat in Munich wondering whether the band would start without me. Luckily the audience at Christian Bucher Halle were in good spirits and well aware of the delay. In the end Smokie were about 25 minutes late in hitting the stage. I arrived ready to go on because my luggage was still in Munich, so there was no changing for me. The night ended well. Days like this happen sometimes when you travel as much as we do. We always make the gig and it's always a great relief to end a challenging travel day with a successful gig. A good rest tonight would be welcome but we must leave early in the morning to get to Bergen. It's the show that counts, not the hours of sleep, for every town we visit is holding a party to which we are invited. Nice to be popular. Anyone got some matchsticks to hold my eyes open?
In the 1970's the gigs were mostly clubs, like The Regency Room in Vauxhall Caravan Park. Smokie cut our teeth on club gigs. People sat at tables with their arms folded, waiting to be entertained. That was the best apprenticeship we could have had for it prepared us for everything that came after. Sunday night was a little different. We were given a huge introduction by the master of ceremonies who explained how busy we had been and worked the crowd up to an excited state. The venue mostly plays host to tribute bands, so an original band is a welcome departure from the norm. Every song was received with enthusiasm - not just the old ones which are more familiar to most. Some people had travelled a long way to see the show. I met people from Denmark who were there just to see Smokie. For some Great Yarmouth is an easy destination. For me it is a 590-mile, 11-hour drive which I embarked on immediately after the gig with great anticipation. It was nice to get home without the need to book yet another hotel. Now we take our show a little further afield, as you can see from the tour dates. Thank you to everyone for your support on this English tour. There are more UK dates in the planning and I shall post these shortly on this website.
It was everything beginning with “s” today – sun, sea, sand and Smokie in Scarborough. The wave of high pressure brought people to the seaside resort for a last chance to catch some rays before the return of the big chill. Very many familiar faces graced our audience as well as a lot of less familiar ones. The crowd gave an impressive Saturday night response to Smokie’s final two-set show this year. The theatre tour is over and there only remains one club gig at Vauxhall Caravan Park before the UK leg of the tour is completed. It makes a change to drive all the way to the gigs instead of just to the airport. Normality returns next week with a persistent round of overseas gigs in a great variety of places. It’s said that variety is the spice of life – well, we must be dining on jalapenos.
I should be careful what I promise in future. The projector was again shy to make an appearance at The Victoria Theatre, Halifax due to a faulty bulb. Well, it has been in storage for some years, so it probably needs a good dust and a service. Not having the projector took nothing away from the show that went down like a chip butty in a soup kitchen. Our Yorkshire audience did us proud and joined in nice and loud. It was like playing to all our friends and all their friends as well. I love to see the looks on peoples’ faces when the band gives the audience a round of applause. It’s a quirky thing that we do to thank everyone for making the night a good one. It reverses our roles for a bit and makes the punters realise that a performance is a two-way event. Without the crowd there would be no gig. We realise that and like to show our appreciation. Thank you to all who were there in Halifax for giving us a night to remember. I feel very sure we will return.
The audience at Hull City Hall loved the acoustic set. There was a standing ovation from some of them and enthusiastic applause from the rest. Regardless of a power interruption the show ran smoothly with an excellent sound, as confirmed by three generations of Smokie sound engineers who happened to be there at the time. Hull City Hall can be a little echoey, yet there was no evidence of it last night. The band agreed that this was our best performance at this venue and comments from the audience confirmed this. Tonight we can add one extra feature, which is the projector. It was not possible to hang the screen last night, but it will be seen at The Victoria Theatre in Halifax. The show doesn’t rely on the projector being present but it enhances the presentation.
There’s one very good way to launch the opening of a new football arena and that is to invite a couple of rock bands to christen the turf. Those two bands were The Scorpions (8th October) and Smokie (9th October). There was a tremendous football-size crowd in attendance as we hit the stage at Cluj Municipal Arena. The voices of the audience sounded as loud as the PA as they welcomed us to the stage. From beginning to end it was a magnificent show with stunning lighting. The evening consolidated our very close relationship with the Romanian people. Today the arena gets used for the first time for its primary purpose – football.
Playing in Randers is like coming home. Our association goes back a long way through several Smokie albums. The memories are very precious. We have seen a whole generation grow up since the beginning of this line-up. The new faces are as enthusiastic as the old ones. The band continues to thrill on many levels. Nostalgia plays a part, of course, but there are just as many fans who are starting their Smokie journey afresh. At Randers Hallen there was no distinction between young and old. There was a strong spirit of unity amongst all of those present as both the band and the audience threw ourselves wholeheartedly into having a great evening. It felt like the end of term at school when a long awaited project comes to an end. There was both the feeling of great achievement coupled with the sadness that this was the last one for a while. Smokie move on, as always, and extremely early after this show. Sleeping time is again greatly limited as we troll the world’s airports at unsociable hours so we may take the thrills to another location. It’s all in a day’s work, as well as evenings and night time. Just as there is a city that never sleeps, it seems there is a band with a similar claim. We are Smokie, and we never let the grass grow under our feet.
It may have cooled down a little outside yesterday, but that certainly wasn’t the case in Vendiahallen in Hjorring, where the heat was intense in the packed hall. It reminded me of the sweaty gigs Smokie used to do in Ireland in the 1980’s. Everyone was competing for oxygen. Hot gigs are very satisfying because there is a feeling that we all worked hard. The result was tremendous and one of our best performances in Denmark. The crowd loved the double set. They listened enthusiastically to the acoustic set and went wild in the electric one. That’s pretty much the sort of reaction we were hoping for. It’s great when a plan comes together. Looking at the weather forecast for the next two days I would say that our best chance of keeping warm is inside the venues. Bring it on!
Check out the latest updates to the schedule in November if you are in Germany or Sweden. The details are becoming clearer as we get nearer to the dates. More information will be available soon and you can be sure it will be on this website if it is available anywhere.
It's getting very exciting at CERN in Geneva where the physicists are conducting A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE) to determine the existence of even smaller particles than previously known. What's this got to do with Smokie? It's a tenuous connection, but anything to do with Alice has got to arouse our interest. Check it out on Google. It may just change your universe!
The Faroese people don’t go out until late. Our concert at Hollin a Halsi was originally scheduled for 2.00 a.m., but was brought forward to 1.00 a.m. to help us to prepare for an early flight to Copenhagen. The venue is well known to us, our relationship with The Faroe Islands having originated around twenty years ago when we used to appear in January. Many people remember those first visits and some of those same people were at the show. The energy of the audience remained high for the whole ninety minutes, making this our best reaction from a crowd in the small hours. Next time I might just turn up in my pyjamas.
The Kongrescenter was already very hot when we entered it yesterday afternoon, much like the rest of Zealand which was basking in 29 degrees with a cloudless sky. If this is autumn I would like more of it. The heat caused people to hit the streets just to get away from the buildings. It felt more like June than September. Smokie's two-set gig, the same as we played in Australia last November, was received with wild and steamy enthusiasm. The audience and band sweated together. This was the first in a series of Scandinavian shows that take us through to the middle of November. I expect, in that time, we will see some dramatic changes in weather conditions, but I know the reaction inside the venues will always be just as warm regardless of the mercury reading.
Vienna was basking in the autumn sun and looking splendid. Smokie's concert was for the Almdudler company, makers of the famous Austrian soft drink. No expense was spared and the venue was the magnificent Rathaus in Lichtenfelsgasse - a venue I remember playing 23 years ago on the "Don't worry be happy tour" of 1988. The crowd looked smart in their national costume - lederhosen for the gents and long dresses for the ladies. They were on the right wavelength for Smokie, turning a dressy occasion into a viable rock gig. Maybe that delicious soft drink will make it to the UK. There are plans to do so.
Take a quick journey round the world with Smokie. It will only take a minute (or more).
To view the latest video of "Light Beings", from the project "The Code Within", follow the link:
Smokie’s final show for the summer was for the company Protektiv, and held in Rodmyr, near Skien in Norway. It was a large corporate event that attracted 3,500 people from 200 different companies. Apparently the tickets for this show sold out in three days last December. The result was magnificent, and the best way to end summer on a high note. The band separated after the KLM lounge in Schipol and flew home to their respective airports. It’s holiday time now and a chance to catch up at home. The next stop is very likely to be South Korea. I shall be able to confirm this by the end of next week. Now I am watching the weather in Rome and noticing that it could be quite hot down there in 11 days’ time. Bring it on!
The show in Boras is the last in a season of Thursday night concerts during the summer. A 20,000-strong crowd filled the town square. They sounded in good voice and looked to be in very good spirits. There is one very unusual aspect of this show in Boras, which is that the band who play on the main stage always play a short set in the hotel nightclub afterwards. There was a huge crowd outside the hotel as we returned in our stretch limo. The nightclub was packed to bursting and the heat was intense, causing the air conditioning to interfere with electrical equipment. Our short set was received with great enthusiasm. The people of Boras have celebrated their final show of the summer in style.
As the clouds lifted and made way for some brilliant sunny weather there were very many people out in the parks and gardens around Jessheim, where we were staying. The auditorium at Arnes was full to capacity with an audience who were well prepared for a Smokie concert. It was such a contrast to play to a crowd who were not dripping with rainwater, and with faces covered by rain hoods. Last night was very special. There is just one more Norwegian gig before the end of summer festivals. Something tells me that the crowd in Skien will be just as willing as the one in Arnes – such is our long term connection with the Norwegian people.
Although summer is nearly over some of us are still waiting for it to start. Smokie’s final show in Denmark for this season was in Odder. Shortly after we arrived at the venue the rain began, prompting the opening of umbrellas and rain ponchos. Yet nothing could detract from this final celebration and the audience rose to the occasion with great aplomb. The set was a little longer than usual, featuring the two ballads “Home is anywhere you are” and “Will you still love me tomorrow?”, both of which were received with enormous enthusiasm. We don’t have to wait too long for our return to Denmark for we will be back at the end of next month, after we have taken some time for a holiday. We have been booked solid since the beginning of February and, even though the shows are still very energetic, it is time to recharge ourselves before facing a very hectic last three months of the year. Before I know it I will be putting up that Christmas tree again.
I feel that I have come to know Judenburg very well in the last 28 hours. I checked out the venue yesterday morning while walking around the town and was impressed with the organization that has been put into this special event. I wonder how the 20 inmates, whose cells overlooked the courtyard, enjoyed the show. The audience made it very clear that they were having a great time. It’s too soon to plan another event like this in Judenburg, although the promoters are giving us clear signals that they would like to do so.
Last night Smokie and Sweet were invited to the mayor's reception, held in the 75-metre tower in the centre of Judenburg. We were treated to a performance by two Austrian musicians - one playing accordian and one double bass, as well as a show in the planetarium. As well as seeing the alignment of stars in the heavens we watched a couple of Pink Floyd music videos, which looked stunning on a surround screen.
Having taken the easy route to the top of the tower last night I decided to check out the staircase this morning. First I climbed 140 stairs to reach the level of the town from the bridge adjoining our hotel, then I took another 254 stairs to reach the top of the tower - that's 394 in total. The planetarium was also up a further flight of stairs. It's been great exercise and a journey worth making.
Tonight's concert, along with Sweet and Slade, is in the grounds of the courthouse. We will overlook the old jail rooms as we serenade the town's inhabitants. That's a first for Smokie!
New video footage has been taken in Lithuania which heralds the start of a new Smokie YouTube channel. The plan is to update the channel regularly with official footage. Take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDudVOoL4p0
The town of Klaipeda was in celebratory mood. Not only is it their annual Sea Festival, but last night a new venue opened, known as the Svyturio Arena, and Smokie were the first band to perform there. We had the extra privilege of being backed by The Vilnius Symphony Orchestra, led by our old friend Vitas, the conductor who led the series of concerts last December with The Kaunas Symphony Orchestra. The audience were supercharged with energy and sprung to their feet very early in the show, creating a wonderful atmosphere and making this show one of the best any of us can remember from all our years of performing. As we all commented after the gig, “It doesn’t get any better than this”. It was a sell-out gig in an impressive new arena and it entertained us as much as it entertained the crowd. More events like this are in the planning and it seems that Smokie are beginning to make a reputation for ourselves for putting on symphonic productions. If we can do it in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland perhaps we could do it in other countries too. Our date sheet indicates that there are some orchestral shows planned in Sweden in December. Keep a lookout on this website for confirmation of these shows. I can promise you a really excellent night.
Norwegians had more than a little reason to feel shocked and sad today, after the terrible events that led to the untimely and pointless deaths of 93 people. Yet I sensed in our audience at Dokka Camping a strong spirit and sense of unity in the face of adversity. I was relieved that the National Day of Mourning had not resulted in the cancellation of all live events for I would have missed being part of a truly heartening experience as masses of Norwegians showed their courage on this sad day. There is more than one way to deal with grief and ours was to celebrate together and remain cheerful while, at the same time, being very aware of those who had lost their lives. The evening was intensely emotional yet it had all the hallmarks of a great Smokie gig. A special bond between the band and the audience was forged last night and the patriotism and strength of feeling was evident as Steve raised the Norwegian flag at the end of the show. Humans are remarkable beings and the proof of that fact was on show in Dokka.
A similar experience was waiting for us at The Koppang Festival in Norway where the water levels rose to above the ankles. Luckily the crowd were also on good form for the celebration of their village’s summer festival.
There’s something about last nights of the tour in Sweden and thunderstorms that go together, as we experienced in 2006. The rain pelted down for the first half of the show at Ahus Strand, soaking the audience and the front of the stage. Instead of a sea of faces we looked at a sea of rain hoods and concealed faces, which is an unusual sight at a Smokie gig and makes eye contact difficult. However, the crowd were fantastic in their support and remained upbeat and cheerful throughout the set. It’s almost as if it had never rained at all as everyone was intent on having a good time. That’s what Smokie are all about.
The night club “Skagerak” is situated alongside the harbour in Stromstad. During the afternoon and evening the whole area was packed with people enjoying the sun and eating and drinking outdoors. As the evening cooled a little (not much) the revellers came inside to enjoy Smokie’s show. The heat built up inside the club, making the gig a wet one for all – good conditions for a performance. Clearly the audience were very familiar with all our material. It was good to have such close contact with such an enthusiastic crowd.
The stage at Vallarna has a unique look for there are four brightly coloured huts in view. This gives it a sort of Hansel and Gretel charm and, at the same time, creates a backdrop against which it is impossible to be completely serious. It's just as well we are Smokie because taking ourselves seriously has never been our aim. The audience, who sat in tiered seating, amphitheatre-style, were on very good form. A hot day had helped to cheer everybody up. Not even the invading mosquitos could dampen their enthusiasm. This was the first gig in a run of shows in Sweden which see us returning after several years of absence (apart from occasional gigs on the ship "Cinderella"). We enjoyed the warmest of welcomes. It really is great to be back. Now we are planning our shows with the orchestra which are scheduled for later in the year.
There is much to tweet about if you travel as much as I do, so I decided to use some of those wasted hours in foreign airports to write short messages to those who would like to view them. Life on the road can be unpredictable and amusing.
It doesn’t seem long since we were last in Juelsminde, but my records tell me it was three years ago. That’s how quickly time flies in this business. The heavy rain from earlier in the week had cleared and the sky was showing a beautiful sunset against a massive moon. The harbour never looked better. The audience filled the tented area, leaving little space to spare. Their reaction was mighty as we hit the stage, and their energy never waned for a moment as we took them through all the familiar hits as well as some of the songs that have recently become popular in Denmark. What a great night and what a terrific crowd!
It took three airplanes and a ferry to reach Vanylsvraak in Norway, but it was well worth it for the fantastic audience reaction we received. The crowd contained some very young people who looked like they were seeing a live band for the first time. It seems that the tradition for playing Smokie music continues in this wonderful country and yet another generation of listeners are becoming attached to our songs. The mountainous backdrop was a welcome view from the stage, as was the sea of eager faces in the audience. It was truly a special night and one that we may be repeating again in the future if the invitation comes our way.
Another birthday? It seems like only one year since the last one! Well, it's a round number so it keeps things neat. What a shame I am not gigging today - just travelling to Norway. I remember well my 50th when 6,000 people in Norway sang "Happy Birthday" to me. I shall spoil myself today and have an extra egg for breakfast.
I was invited recently to enter KLM's competition to create inspiring words to print on to the side of one of their airplanes. My words were accepted, along with the accompanying photograph, and printed on to one of KLM's fleet of aircraft, along with around 4.000 other entries. The final result may be seen by following this link:
What do you do if you’ve only had two hours sleep? If you are Smokie you take two flights to Denmark and get back to work – not once but twice. How do we do it? (people keep asking me the secret). It’s not hard when the audiences are so full of energy, for they transfer all their energy to the band. With several thousand people present at both Give and Karup, that’s a lot of energy to share. At both gigs we felt a special warmth towards the band and an eagerness for the new songs which were featured on Denmark’s hit album “Take a minute”. A combination of our own adrenalin and the crowd’s enthusiasm keeps us on a high for the entire show. It’s always when we stop that we feel the fatigue starting to take effect.
For me it was a continuation as I also flew very early the next morning, arriving at 08.30 in Edinburgh after two flights. I was attending Luke’s final Loretto Day celebration. It meant meeting lots of people, attending a chapel service, viewing artwork and watching a cricket match. This all sounds challenging to a tired musician, yet it was also exhilarating for Luke featured largely at his final celebration – as solo guitarist in the marquee, as bass drummer with The Loretto Pipe Band, as sound engineer for the Junior School Hip Hop Show and as Head Boy of Loretto, with all the responsibility that goes with the position. Every few moments a teacher or a parent approached me to tell me how wonderful my son was and how much he will be missed when he leaves. It was a proud day to be the father of such a talented and nice guy.
Friday night’s show was in the grounds of a construction company who were celebrating their centenary. The audience were dressed in their finery and seated around dinner tables. It was a night of speeches for those who were gathered, but it ended on a high note with Austria’s Pop Idol winner performing a short set before Smokie hit the stage. There was no need for hard hats or donkey jackets, and the audience were on fine form for this landmark celebration of their company’s longevity.
It’s not often I have the chance to shoot an arrow at a polystyrene pig, but yesterday was one such opportunity. It was a competition between Smokie, Sweet and The Rubettes. I managed to put an arrow into my target, as did Pete Lincoln (Sweet) and Alan Williams (Rubettes). Alan’s arrow was closest to the marker on the animal and he walked away with a large side of bacon as a prize.
It was all fun and games in Kufstein, where we joined the mayor for an impromptu version of “Alice” and the official opening of the three-day festival. Starting this year there will be a statue to commemorate the bands that have had the greatest impact on music in this area. Smokie’s statue is the first to be put on display, which is a great honour.
The show was under cover in an impressive arena in the shadow of a beautiful Austrian castle. The surrounding mountains completed the fairytale ambience. A late afternoon thunderstorm helped to clear the sultry air. Our audience were on great form and rewarded us with an energetic rendition of “Alice” at the end of the show. I hope that we might be part of this event again in the future. It is a great festival in a beautiful town with lovely people. What more could I wish for?
For photos from Greenland click the link below:
You may remember that my son, Luke, was the voice behind "Not Far Away" when he was a little boy. Now he is 18, very tall, and plays the guitar and sings. He is currently finishing his final term at school before attending university to read Physics in October. He starts gigging locally in July at The Lodge in Drumnadrochit. I expect he will set up a MySpace page which I will link to when I have the details. If you wish to hear him he can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfM8ruxQDUM where he sings "Get Back" and "Mull of Kintyre" as well as playing the piano for "Hey Jude".
I managed to secure an igloo for my accommodation in Ilulissat for my final night in Greenland at the Hotel Arctic once more, there being little in the way of hotel choices in Aasiaat. The journey back to Ilulissat was a dramatic 5-hour boat ride through dense iceberg fields, sometimes at very low speed to avoid collisions with large pieces of floating ice. It was a huge contrast to the 17-minute plane ride that allowed us to reach Ilulissat in the first place. It seemed a waste of time to sleep too much in this land of midnight sun, especially as I had a stunning sea view, so I dozed and stayed awake for a 12 a.m. walk around the coast so I could take in more of the stunning scenery in this icy land. Opportunity sometimes only presents itself once, and this was my chance to grab it just in case I don’t get a future chance to be in an igloo overlooking the sea at the 69 degree latitude. How lucky I am that touring places me in so many varied parts of the globe and tempts me into an adventure of discovery. After waking in my small round cocoon I noticed that there had been a major change in the landscape with many more icebergs appearing in the bay. It’s as if there is a play being set on a huge stage and the scenery has been wheeled in between acts.
Smokie’s adventure in Ilulissat began with a strangely familiar story – a flight delay which was erroneously reported as two and a half hours but was, in fact, thirty five minutes. We had to get to Ilulissat, having travelled so far to reach our final destination. We were on a mission to complete a task that we began on 11th February this year. Fate had to be on our side this time.
In fact it was and we reached Ilulissat in good time to allow our technicians time to prepare for the 11 p.m. show. In the meantime I had a chance to take a good look at the Ice Fjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the very space-age looking metal igloos which are provided as accommodation for some of the residents of Hotel Arctic. We were 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle – that is the furthest north Smokie have ever been on tour since starting in 1974.
The crowd were completely ecstatic at our presence in their local Sports Hall. They, like us, felt the relief that we had kept our promise to return and give a great show to the inhabitants of Ilulissat. It was a very happy occasion and one to mark in our memories. Even the forecast snow came to nothing.
After flying west for seventeen minutes we reached Aasiaat and another eager audience at a sports hall. When Steve split the skin on his snare drum we needed to fill the time whilst it was being repaired, so the Greenlanders were treated to two unscheduled songs – “Will you still love me tomorrow?” and “Home is anywhere you are”, both of which were met with wild enthusiasm. Even though the set was longer than planned time seemed to fly by. The raw energy of the crowd pulled us through as we felt the aftermath of the late nights and early mornings catching up.
Now we can enjoy a day to ourselves before starting the long trip home via Copenhagen, arriving home on Tuesday. I said it was an adventure and that is exactly how it felt. I believe we have left behind many happy Greenlanders who are eager to see Smokie again. If their wishes come true we could be embarking on this adventure again.
Summer was suddenly upon us today, both at home and in Denmark where we played the very popular Open Air Festival in Korso. The change in the mood of the people was almost tangible as the sun beat down on the happy crowd. This was our first chance to perform songs in Denmark from the hit album “Take a minute”, and the new songs were received with passion. That wonderful light in the sky brought energy to all who were gathered. Perhaps it will do the same to our gardens, where a bit of raw sunlight is much needed. This is the first time I have come off stage and gone almost immediately to a golf driving range to take advantage of the long light days. I hope that time will not pass too quickly now before the end of the Summer festivals because this Is my favourite time of year.
As Sokndalhallen started to fill the party atmosphere grew until everyone was totally involved in Smokie's show last night. This was a country venue with all the warmth and welcome that we might expect when we hit the more remote parts of Norway. Our reputation was made by visiting every corner of this beautiful country and we are still enjoying the benefits of our groundwork today.
Last night’s street party outside Jekyl & Hyde in Lillestrom was full of atmosphere. As the crowd moved closer to the stage there was an intimate connection with the band. I had the feeling that we were playing to a group of friends. They made it very clear that they were enjoying what Smokie had to offer. This show heralded the start of the outdoor Scandinavian shows this year of which there will be many more. Let the summer begin, which it will do, hopefully next week.
I have put the track "Cosmic Field" from the album "The Code Within" on YouTube, suitably accompanied by stunning images from outer space. For a look at the results go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TKD4e-S9Fc, or simply type in "Cosmic Field".
Happy contemplation of the universe!
If you can’t have a party in a brewery where can you have one? Last night our hosts were the Hartwall Brewery of Lahti and their hall was well decked out for the Finnish celebrations. It’s been a little while since we last played in Finland (19th July 2008) and it was good to be back. Some of the audience were well acquainted with the lyrics to songs from “Take a minute”. Terry enlightened the audience with the fact that Smokie’s first show in Finland was in Lahti in 1974. On that night the band sharing the stage had also been The Hurricanes, as it was last night. History does repeat itself and with happy memories attached.
We faced a sea of cameras as Smokie took to the stage at The Veltins Arena. The overhead cube displayed the current camera shot to the audience, some of whom were very far from the stage. The auditorium, with its roof partly open on this occasion, holds 60,000 people. There was a good number of people in and around the venue last night to witness a show that featured 20 acts. Our short set comprised of twenty five minutes - just long enough to thrill a crowd and leave them wanting more. It was good to catch up with so many of the bands who have become our friends over the years. It felt like an old school re-union.
The town of Sf.Gheorghe was celebrating its 550th anniversary with a 640 kg cake that was due to be entered in The Guinness Book of Records after being photographed with Smokie, ceremonially sliced with a Samurai sword and shared amongst band members. Yesterday marked the eighth and final day of a festival that has now run for the past twenty years. A crowd of 35,000 people gathered in the town square for a night of celebration. The air temperature was an unseasonal 3 degrees and threatened snow, as it had the previous evening. Luckily this never happened and the audience created all the warmth we required to carry a full show to its conclusion. The crowd were rapturous in their reaction.
The magnificently decorated Baltic Queen was a fitting venue for a multi-cultural night at sea. As the ship slowly lilted and swayed Smokie put the audience through their paces to see how good they were at partying. They passed with flying colours. There were many words of congratulations after the gig as well as talk of more likely future dates in Sweden – namely Malmo and Gothenburg. This will be a relief to our Swedish fans who have not seen us so much recently. Our sound engineer made it onboard with two minutes to spare after being delayed in Paris, otherwise he would be making his own way to Bucharest to meet with us for the weekend show in Sf. Gheorghe. Our travels take us via Helsinki, arriving in time to do a quick TV show before settling briefly in Bucharest and moving onwards on Saturday. Let’s not let the grass grow under our feet. A rolling stone gathers no moss, and all that stuff.
I feel a tinge of sadness as I leave The Highlands today after five days of blazing hot sunshine. It’s been like the Summer we have been waiting for, except it’s only Spring. I heard the first cuckoo today as I said my farewell to the gardens in which I have laboured so hard during my spare time. But there are fans waiting and they take precedence over all other matters. I look forward to seeing how The Baltic Queen differs from The Cinderella and finding out how the audience react to Smokie on the trip to Tallinn.
It might have been wedding fever, although it was more likely Smokie fever, but the audience were in a supercharged mood at Tips Arena in Linz. I couldn't have hoped for a better reaction in these circumstances in which we are working with new technicians. The sound must have inspired the crowd, based on how they reacted to the show. Now I shall be at home for a couple of days before resuming with the gig on The Baltic Queen. I think there will be a few garden jobs to do whilst the weather remains hot and dry up in The Highlands.
The INEC in Killarney is now Smokie's most regular gig. The venue would have us back several times a year quite happily. In fact we will be back in December to do one of their Christmas gigs. This time was a little different to all others in as much as we had an entirely new crew with us. They are all professionals and did a great job of making us sound as good as we possibly can. The audience were happy, which is the most important aspect of the show. Our new crew move on with us to Linz tomorrow, after which time we will be seeing more new faces yet again. They say a change is as good as a rest, and keeps us on our toes. At least the five faces on stage will be the usual recognisable ones.
A new date sheet has just arrived in my inbox and it contains some real goodies like, for example, a possible return to South Korea in June and July, another appearance with The Lithuanian Orchestra in July and also possible dates in The Czech Republic and Slovakia in November. Also the year is likely to end in Austria, which will give us a scenic and picturesque backdrop to the end of 2011. Let's not think about that yet since I have only just finished giving the grass its first cut of the year. I'd like a long hot summer.
Where in the world can you have a wild party on a Sunday afternoon? Carnival City in South Africa is an easy choice. The audience did us proud at our final show in this venue. Memories of our amazing ten days in this remarkable country come flooding back of how much we squeezed into that short time - eight gigs, one tv show, a visit to the Cango Wildlife Park, a tour of The Meerendal Wine Estate and some very picturesque travel in the Smokie Beechcraft. We have played to a very large number of people in this short time, made new friends and consolidated our position as one of South Africa's best loved international acts. And "Take a minute" is in the top 20. Not a bad bit of work for ten days. Now we return to the Northern Hemisphere and resume our regular weekend gigs in and around Europe. If variety is the spice of life I think ours is a jalapeno.
Did I say “you can’t get better”? Well, we did last night in what was a frenzied reaction from the audience with many references to Smokie being legends in South Africa. It’s a great compliment for a bunch of honest English boys whose music only sets out to entertain and make people happy. It seems we do much more.
You can’t get better than a full house and you can’t get a better reaction than Smokie had last night on stage at Carnival City, the location where we recorded our live DVD in 2008. The audience appear to have adopted us and our music lock, stock and barrel. It’s heart warming to walk on to a stage and feel that every note will be appreciated and given a thorough listening. It may be the “Take a minute” Tour, yet “Alice” is still as strong as ever, creating a musical backdrop for many a South African braai. Every night finishes with a party for media and private guests, featuring lengthy photo shoots and opportunities to hear what the audience have to say about the show. Their remarks are overwhelmingly positive and it’s a great pleasure to hear what they have to say.
A capacity Sand du Plessis Theatre in Bloemfontein was filled with eager punters. I walked on to a stage that was thick with smoke – a spectacle which added drama to the opening of the show and throughout the whole event. It was a Smokie night as well as a smokey night. The filling of a theatre on this tour has delighted our promoter and pointed to the fact that we can play any venue in South Africa and make a success of the night.
We finally arrived at our destination at 3.00 a.m. after a delayed take-off from Bloemfontein. Now it’s the easy part of the tour with just three shows to go here in Carnival City. Unfortunately we have left the good weather behind, so there may be little opportunity to top up the tan which so effortlessly arrived in the baking hot conditions south of Johannesburg.
From Cape Town we followed the stunning coastline of South Africa towards Port Elizabeth in clear and sunny conditions, arriving in very hot weather. The crowd at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University were keyed up before we hit the stage. The noise they made would have been surprising for an audience twice the size. Many remembered our previous appearance at this venue on 4th March 2004. Today we fly in to Bloemfontein and straight out again after the gig to our final destination on this tour – Carnival City in Brakpan.
It was an early start to the day with a 5.00 a.m. make-up call for SABC 3’s “Expresso”. Terry and I chatted and larked around for the whole two hours on this informal show. It was national barefoot day, so Terry removed both shoes while I only removed one, in keeping with my trademark image for individual foot fashion. The exercise spot featured zoomba during which Terry decided to dance across the floor in a comical way to add levity to the moment. The presenters all agreed that they had had the most fun on this show and thanked us for keeping them entertained.
Later in the morning our sponsors kindly gave us the full tour of The Meerendal Wine Estate today, explaining every aspect involved in the making of all the wines that originate from this impressive farm. It was our pleasure later to return the compliment and meet them backstage at The Grand West Casino after witnessing an ecstatic reaction from a capacity crowd.
Cape Town rocks, that’s for sure. The last two days have been a continuous celebration of the best that this area has to offer. I feel that we have really consolidated our position as South Africa’s favourite international band. The tour moves on to Port Elizabeth that, in a Beechcraft B1900, is a mere hour and a half away.
The KKND Festival at Oudtshoorn (pronounced Oatswarren) has traditionally been an Afrikaaner only event until this year when Smokie became the first international band to appear. The setting was on an Ostrich Farm set amongst beautiful scenery with the mountains as a backdrop. Even as we took to the stage there was a 2 km tailback of traffic on the approach road. The response to our presence in this remote part of South Africa was overwhelming. Even the ostriches appeared to be waiting patiently for this overseas phenomenon.
Our afternoon was spent at The Cango Wildlife Park, where we stroked young tigers and cheetahs and witnessed Steve and Mick being lowered into the water in a cage to watch crocodiles feeding at close range. It was a rare opportunity to mix with wild animals and learn more about their behaviour.
The hospitality here is second to none and everwhere we go there is food prepared. We left Cango feeling full after a braai (barbecue) and then found more food laid out for us at the venue. Today our only appointment is at the beach tonight where we will be treated to another braai at Die Strandkombuis. Staying slim in Africa is a challenge, as well as staying off alcohol.
Time is fairly immaterial here and all events happen late and take longer than planned on the schedule. We missed our flight slot by an hour and a half last night, yet this didn’t seem to matter as we landed in Cape Town at 2.00 a.m. This so-called “Africa Time” is a permanent part of life on this lovely continent and the way to deal with it is to relax and go with the flow.
Tomorrow is an early start when I rise at 4.30. a.m. to appear, with Terry, on SABC’s breakfast show “Expresso”. This is closely followed by a half-day trip to Meerendal Wine Estate, one of the tour’s sponsors. It’s a busy schedule until we reach Johannesburg, made easier by our travel arrangements on the Smokie/Lefra plane.
Playing at The Silverstar Casino in Gauteng was no gamble. Smokie were greeted by a full house with a party atmosphere to equal Christmas. The temperature in the room rose as we took our audience through four decades of material, most of which they knew very well. News came through during the evening that we have now entered the South African charts at number 20. No doubt this tour will help to spread the good will and help to push the album higher. Today we start our travels on the private charter around the country. It gives us great flexibility and enables us to move on straight after tonight’s gig and put ourselves in place for the show in Cape Town with the least amount of effort. No waiting and no queuing – that’s worth a lot to international travellers.
I have my eye on that imaginary line that stretches around the middle of the Earth, known as The Equator. As luck would have it I am due to cross it early tomorrow morning to head for Johannesburg and be in place for the first gig on The South African Tour. A bit more sunshine (after Lanzarote) will not go amiss and the tour looks to be in good shape. Smokie's private plane is adorned with our logo and the name of the promotion company, Lefra Productions, as well as the local website address www.smokie.co.za. All I need to do now is book ahead for that ostrich ride! (see YouTube if it happens).
We were in the capable hands of ZDF Television as they filmed various episodes of their "Fruhlingsshow" at Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote. There were numerous harbour shots, several trips on boats and general good humour as Smokie took the audience through "Alice" and "Sally", both of which were received like we were all best friends. It was an intimate show in beautiful surroundings and set a great mood. Great weather helped, only occasionally interrupted by strong winds. The broadcast is due for the second week in April, after which the second track from "Take a minute", "Nothing hurts like a broken heart" is due for release as a radio single.
The DK Inwest venue in Plzen was what you might call rather full. It looked like the crowd had been inserted with the aid of a shoehorn. There was barely space to breathe, yet enough to wiggle and call it a dance. This created a great impression from the stage for it looked like the audience were all joined as one. It’s not hard to create a good atmosphere under these conditions, and that is exactly what happened. It was a rip-roaring end to our Czech experience and a fitting farewell to a country that has taken Smokie to its hearts.
As the extra large moon rose above the horizon I felt the chill in the air begin to disappear. Maybe those daffodils in The Highlands, which started poking their heads through a couple of weeks ago, will now get the chance to flourish. Whatever happens, I think now could be a good time to leave that winter coat at home for a few months. That’s easy for me to say, for I am off to Lanzarote to do some filming for ZDF television. It’s a tough life!
Ice stadiums can be cold places to gig, but not last night in Pardubice’s Mala Hala Zimni Stadion. The audience warmed up the place nicely – both in temperature and from the emotional point of view. It was another great night in The Czech Republic. Tonight is the final night of this mini tour, which has been a great success both in audience figures and their reaction to Smokie. I shall be looking for new dates in our diary in this wonderful country.
Can a stadium gig be as good as a club gig? The answer is an undeniable “yes”, as was proven at Pavilon G1 in Brno last night. Sure enough the audience are a little further away and there are many more of them, yet there seemed to be an intimacy that belied the size of the venue. I felt like I just wanted to draw everybody in closer so they could get as much contact with the band as possible. There was no need, as it happened, because the whole audience seemed totally immersed in the show and the atmosphere that prevailed. It was a night to remember and number amongst the special gigs of 2011. May there be many more like it and I hope I can remember them all.
The atmosphere at The Kofola Music Club in Krnow was electric. With a full house the heat onstage was intense, and there was the sort of ambience most loved by musicians. And we had very much eye contact with the audience, which makes the whole experience so much richer. I had the feeling that we were playing in a very large house to a group of people we know very well. By the end of the evening nobody felt like a stranger. That's the sort of start to a tour which keeps people smiling for days. If that translates well into the stadiums we can expect a very satisfying tour of The Czech Republic.
I woke up to a very deep fall of snow this morning. Not quite what I had expected on March 13th after all this lovely dry and sunny weather we have had. There was no choice but to start shovelling and digging the cars out of their temporary igloos. Three hours later the drive was clear enough for me to drive out of tomorrow and, of course, on Tuesday when I have to get to The Czech Republic. The upside is that I went sledging in the field opposite with my wife, Roz. There were no children in sight; in fact we were the only ones game enough to go and play in the snow. I always knew that, once the children had left home, we would go back to doing those young and crazy things we started all those years ago. Second childhood? I think it might be!
Last night’s venue in Moscow was The International Concert Hall Svetlana, a beautiful new and fresh venue with more than a hint of The Belfast Waterfront about it. It was a dressy affair with several dignitaries present and a dinner held in Smokie’s honour afterwards. The concept of “East meets West” was fully exploited with the band Mirros representing the east and Smokie representing the west. It’s a formula which we agreed to develop in future. The audience were on fine form and were on their feet for the last climactic sector of the show. To get this response in Moscow is a great achievement and it points to a more permanent relationship with this venue and our promoters who wish to repeat the experience. Something special happened with this performance and I had a very strong feeling that Smokie have just made some new friends as well as leaving our Moscow audience wanting more. They can always invite us back. I shall be here again, that’s for sure.
Set amongst some of the most attractive buildings in Russia, The Municipal House of Culture in Obninsk looked inviting. The audience that filled the theatre were well prepared for singing and dancing. There was delight that Smokie were in town and many of the audience tried to grab autographs while we were performing, just in case they missed an opportunity. The old favourites were received with passionate enthusiasm while the new songs, with their easy hooks, went down extremely well. There was warmth in the venue, which contrasted with the outside where the temperature had reached minus 6. We moved on to a chillier Moscow during the evening to be in place for a special event with a rather important guest.
This is my anniversary of my first gig with Smokie. The year was 1988, the day was Monday, like today, and the venue was the Irish Centre in Kilburn, North London. The band sounded very different to how we do today and there wasn't a great variety of overseas work in those days, the main territories being Germany, Ireland and Scandinavia. Everything was in embryonic state, finally bursting into life with a record deal in Norway, which led to a number one album with "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". The rest, as they say, is history.
About seven years ago, in 2004, I put the finishing touches to my album "World of Music". The music takes you on a journey around the world, which is what I do pretty much all of the time. As I set off for Moscow I think of the track "Moscow Night". My Australian tour was soundtracked by "Uluru". Whilst in Germany I think of "Oktoberfest" and whilst in Korea "Korean Fantasy". And my forthcoming tour of South Africa is aptly accompanied by the Unisong award winning track "Kenyan Sunrise". On my way I pass through Paris, which prompts "Paris Stroll". If you haven't already listened to these tracks try them out in iTunes, Amazon MP3, or wherever you browse your music, and perhaps buy a copy for yourself and join me on my round-the-world tour with appropriate moods for each territory. It really is a world of music.
It was just twenty three years ago today that I had a call from Terry asking if I wanted to do a “few gigs with Smokie”. Little did I know to what that would lead. One thing it led to was an excellent tour of Poland in March 2011, finishing up in Torwar, Warsaw. The crowd reaction last night was mighty and the band struck the last note in perfect time for the assigned curfew. It’s just wonderful how things can turn out so much for the best. Now I work my way back to The Highlands before continuing on to Russia on Sunday. One thing I didn’t know twenty three years ago is that I would end up doing more flights than the pilots!
Hala Arena cuts an impressive outline, as do a lot of the sports arenas in Poland, resembling the mother ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These halls provide excellent facilities for activities of all kinds and help to create opportunities for developing sporting prowess. The hall also allows for a good quality sound during concerts - a feature which is sometimes absent in sports halls. A large crowd warmed to Smokie and were clearly enjoying a quality sound wrapped up in a punchy 75-minute show. Our reception in Poland has been overwhelming and paves the way for our future return.
The crowd's reaction last night was magnificent. Hundreds of mobile phones, lit up like fireflies, were waved during "If you think you know how to love me", creating a hypnotic lattice of lighting. Our first gig in Poland on this mini tour was a great success. We move on to Poznan early tomorrow. We are back to road touring, which makes a change from running to catch airplanes all the time, which will resume at the end of the week. Got to keep those air miles up!
For details of the forthcoming South African tour and album release take a look at http://www.smokie.co.za.
What a beautiful town is Zofingen! The cobbled streets and impressive architecture make it a must see for anyone who is visiting the area. At the Merzweckhalle we had a big audience on our side as we brought some fresh songs as well as the classic hits to the show they labelled “Magic Night”. It was good to be back in Switzerland, which is a country we visit, on average, once a year. More shows are being discussed at the moment and I shall be happy to return whenever the invitation is out.
I have added a couple of pictures to the Gallery, particularly because my Greenland adventure provided a valuable photo opportunity. Also there is evidence that my musical career started young.
Enrick Studio has been the nerve centre for the creation of all music since I first arrived in The Highlands nearly 17 years ago. It has taken on a few different looks and has now emerged in its most high-tech evolutionary form. Gone are all the racks of outboard gear and in its place is the now well-established Roland Fantom G8, the Roland JD 990 and the Oberheim OB 3 squared organ module. The G8 is the big daddy and houses the MIDI sequencer and 24-track audio recorder. All necessary effects are built in which removes the need for any outboard equipment. In line with the trend towards smaller and more powerful electronic gear the studio takes advantage of current technology to create space. And Enrick Studio now has a lot of floor space, which I share with my son, Luke, whose guitar equipment needs a lot more room than my keyboard equipment. If you take a look at Smokie's stage setup you will see that the same is true between Mick's guitars and my keyboards. It makes me wonder just how far miniaturisation can go before there is virtually no equipment visible yet lots of sound emerging from somewhere out of sight.
The G8 needs no help in handling all the work, yet the other two modules provide backup because they store sounds which are not available in the Fantom alone. When you listen to a track like "Cosmic Field" or "Light Beings" (see iTunes) you are listening only to the onboard sounds of the G8. It is a powerful workstation and allows me to quickly call up sounds and start composing without having to refer to external equipment and use up precious time searching. That's how things work here at Enrick Studio.
The latest tour schedule has brought many changes to the date sheet, so check out the updated Tour Dates with Smokie to see where we will be playing this year.
Check out Marika's website (see my links page) for photos from Greenland. Did you ever wonder what the band would look like dressed in furs? It's a once only opportunity to see our ruddy faces sticking out from behind fluffy headgear, and Vernon in long trousers. Thanks, Marika, for posting those pictures.
The life of a Husky doesn’t look too comfortable, for they sleep outside in temperatures up to minus fifty degrees and are expected to run for up to twenty four hours with occasional ten minute breaks. My dogsled was pulled by thirteen Huskies of differing sizes and temperaments. The dogs get very excited when they know that they are going to run and even get into vicious fights as they anticipate the journey. The ride is at a very gentle pace with occasional faster runs downhill. Uphill can be more of a struggle when it is necessary to get off the sledge and push from the back. It sounds easy enough except for the fact that I was dressed in very heavy seal skins from head to toe and also wore big snow boots. The whole gear seemed to weigh me down and make running, or even walking, a very tiresome effort. The scenery, as expected, is breathtaking and I soon adapted to the very low temperature and started to feel very cosy inside my animal furs. At the halfway mark I had the opportunity to try dried whale, dried cod and seal blubber, the latter one melting into oil as I took it into my mouth. Seal blubber is a great cholesterol buster and enables locals to keep a higher body temperature while wearing less restrictive clothing. The twenty kilometre journey was a great experience and one I shall treasure amongst my many happy memories of special opportunities in far off lands while on tour with Smokie.
A crowd of around 1,000 people - one in five of the local population, assembled at The Sports Hall in the centre of Sisimiut. They turned a cold hall into a steamy one with frequent drops of condensation from the high ceiling. The noise as we entered the stage was louder than the PA. The people had come to party and nothing, even the meagre guide ropes, could hold them back. It was a night to remember for so many reasons. Just being here is an achievement. People have waited a long time to see Smokie in their home town, and we have waited a long time to visit. Future plans are already being discussed for our return to this fascinating country. Greenland rocks - that's for sure, and the people are big hearted music lovers.