Soldier’s Joy…

I have decided that if you’re going to have Bircher Muesli in Europe, make sure it’s in Switzerland. It’s not rocket science, they did after all invent the stuff, but they really know how to make it and this morning in Geneva, a serious bowl of Bircher was delivered amongst other delights on my breakfast trolley. No tea this morning, just loads of water. I can’t get enough down me at the moment, partly the drying effect of the bus journeys but also a couple of the guys have developed mild chesty cough/cold symptoms and I woke this morning with a throat like sandpaper and a chest that felt like a Roger Waters stage prop. Grateful that I’m not the lead vocalist in this band, I did wonder how the show would be tonight, I promptly dosed up on painkillers and set to the diary…actually, in truth, I went back to bed and slept for another hour thinking every little helps.

Did you know that in terms of value, Switzerland is responsible for the production of half of the world’s watches. Also, there are more banks here than dentists, women here are expected to live six years longer than men, the Helvetica typeface was created here and Swiss Army knives are red so that they can be easily seen in the snow.



Sleep accomplished, diary complete and feeling a short lived pang of guilt for making absolutely no attempt to get outside and at very least walk alongside the wonderful lake Geneva, I opened up my suitcase  to prepare for the day ahead and all of my clothes still stank of that disgusting smell from the last hotel. That is how smelly it was. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who suffered at the hands of the crap Milano Park Hyatt room freshener too. It’s going to be one of those smells that will probably haunt for many years. I once had a hotel room in Toulouse on a Straits tour and the smell was so disgusting I nearly threw up as I walked in. This was in the days of cigarettes and it was a smoking room not-so cleverly disguised as a non-smoker. I was really suffering from a chronic stomach bug at the time so the smell haunts me to this day. I was too exhausted at the time to change rooms and a doctor came to give me an injection of some weird French adrenaline type drug..well that’s what it felt like as within minutes my heart rate was as if I’d just crossed the finish line in a marathon. I thought I was about to drop dead. It did cure the stomach cramps though. Thankfully tonight’s gig isn’t going to be as tough as that one was.

After a 20 minute flailing, wailing and failing session on my banjo, I left the room and the band met downstairs mid-afternoon and we mingled and chatted with Bob’s lot as they were departing at a similar time. There was a bit of confusion with the two buses and who was going to pick up first and I sensed the hotel porters were in panic mode with two tour buses blocking the street. Bob’s band headed off and Dirk drove our bus into position. We left and headed into the Geneva traffic. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the arena, situated right next to the airport.



The usual routine then ensued, a mad dash to catering, situated conveniently just outside our dressing rooms, and a bowl of Scott’s renowned soup. I swear it’s been getting better and better as the tour has gone on. This afternoon’s delight was spicy roast tomato, and it had quite a kick. Absolutely what the doctor ordered! Then with a good few hours until our potential sound-check, I grabbed the banjo and sat on the couch in our wardrobe room. We had the luxury of two separate rooms today so no need for Banjo-free zone signs. I continued where I left off in my hotel room earlier and before too long had the beginnings of a tune. Mike wandered in and then shot off to get a whistle and he asked me to show him the melody and he joined in. Mike is one of those very few amazing musicians who can pick up a melody almost faster than you can play it. A genius. It wasn’t long before Richard came in with an acoustic and John and Jim were hovering with intent. Then Jim disappeared and reappeared with…yes, you’ve guessed it…the accordion. John grabbed his fiddle and with a full on ‘session’ developing all it needed was Donny Herron. Sure enough, moments later, he appeared with a fiddle. Suddenly my little tune was being promulgated with transatlantic relish along the corridors of the underground backstage area. Everyone who walked past the room smiled…how could you not? We then went into one traditional tune after another led by Mike, John and Donny. One of the tunes we played was a thing called ‘Soldier’s Joy’ which Donny informed us all referred to the morphene Soldiers were given.

Give me some of that Soldier’s Joy, ain’t you got no more
Hand me down my walkin’ cane I ain’t cut out for war





As Donny also mentioned, so many of the trad. Celtic tunes are almost identical to the melodies he knows from back home in West Virginia.

It was soon time to prepare once more for our show and the vocal warm-up was a shock. I could only hit about three notes. After a rather disturbing coughing fit, it took a fair bit of effort to open up the larynx to an acceptable level and in fact I had to bail  for the higher notes in the Sailing to Philadelphia harmonies. I suppose it’s our old friend adrenaline that comes to the rescue in times like these and as the show progressed, I felt better and the voice came back by the time it was required again. Another phenomenal show, a great hall, a great crowd, so different from last night in Milan but just as warm and involved. I find it amazing that the ‘high’ you get from playing a live show, especially one such as this, is as momentous now as it was in my early days of live shows. It IS a drug and I hope we can continue to tour for many years.

We had discussed the possibility of getting away from the venue as soon as possible so as to arrive at the Zurich hotel at a reasonable hour, and as soon as Mark had finished his four songs with Bob, our bus was away for sadly our final bus journey of this wonderful tour.

A little over three hours later we were climbing the steep hill to the East of Zurich where our amazing hotel is perched. I say perched as the view of the city from my room here is spectacular. In the mist of the night, I took some long exposure shots which revealed the shadow cast on the low cloud of the spire of the hotel. I wish all hotels could be like this one….to be continued