Tales From The Undertaker; On Tour With Duke Special, Part I

Hello folks,

Sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post. I’ve just spent the last fortnight touring Ireland with Duke Special and made the (potentially hazardous) last minute decision to go sans laptop. Hence my absence online over the last two weeks, I do hope you’ll excuse me.
But fear not dear readers, I have been diligently ‘blogging’ the old-fashioned way with pen and paper throughout the tour so that I can bombard you with a veritable deluge of posts on my return.
I wrote this post on the 24th November. Lets pretend for now it still is…
I feel a little explanation is in order regarding the title of this post. I am now officially known as The Undertaker in the Duke’s band. This is mainly due to the rather splendid tailcoat I picked up in Camden just before we set off. It was Peter’s idea. He asked me a while ago if I had any character ideas for the band (all the members of the band assume a Duke Special-esque identity when on tour) and the tailcoat prompted him to christen me The Undertaker. Nice.
And, so you know, here’s who else we had in the band on the tour:
Duke Special- Piano and vocals
Temperance Society Chip Bailey- Percussion and kitchen utensils
Matador Ben Castle- Saxes and Clarinet
Paul Pilot- Guitar
Detective Phil Wilkinson- Drums
The Invisible Birdman Mark Edwards- Keyboards
And myself on bass. It’s a really fantastic lineup and I think the largest band Peter has toured with thus far (excluding the orchestral shows, obviously)
Having spent a couple of days rehearsing the previous month to get our ears around the new material, this run officially started with three more days rehearsing in Putney. Now, I say three days rehearsing, but in reality the majority of the first day was spent unloading al the gear and setting it up for the first time, and virtually the entire last day was spent packing it down and trying to get it loaded for the tour. I have never come across another band with as much (mainly loose!) gear as the Duke’s. They make The Flaming Lips look positively minimalist with their vast plies of equipment and various stage paraphernalia. In fact we got a nasty surprise when we finally met up with the tourbus and trailer with our veritable mountain of gear, only to discover that we’d also be carrying about the same amount again in lighting equipment. And the trailer wasn’t very big. Oops…
O yeah, and we have no roadies. Should have mentioned that earlier really…
I am writing to you today from the dressing room of the An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny. We have four shows under our belt so far, with nine more to go.
Our tour started  in Waterford with two nights at Electric Avenue. This is a great little venue right in the middle of the town. I think Peter’s played there a number of times before. I’m guessing it holds somewhere between 200-250 people. The stage certainly wasn’t intended for a band the size of ours. In fact Mark and I wound up on our own little podium off to one side. The was no cat-swinging action to be had I can tell you.
I have come to the conclusion that Waterford is essentially not very ergonomic for a rock and roll band. Electric Avenue is at the top of a long hill which neither the bus or trailer could negotiate. The bus ended up parked in the docks with no water or power ( a good ten minute walk down the hill), where we also had a day room at a local hotel. Let me tell you; woe betide anyone who leaves some essential item for the gig on the bus. I lost count of the number of times I had to schlep up and down that bloody hill. Our dressing room was also miles away from the stage on the other side of the venue. More on that later…
The first night was amazing and the crowd were fantastic. Especially considering the sheer volume of new material we had in the set. They really got into it. In fact it seemed that the majority of them were already familiar with a lot of the new songs already. I discovered that Sweet Sweet Kisses has been getting a lot of airplay over there, which is great news. 
The second night was an extra date added into the schedule after the first night sold out. The crowd were a little noisy but we still had a good show. We did get another nasty shock when we discovered that our dressing room would eventually (ie; by the time we came off stage) become the arse end of a hideous club night. I’ve never seen anything like it. As we sauntered back after the show we were greeted by a crowd of drunken men (there were about three girls in the whole place) gyrating and cavorting erratically to blaring house music. My own personal Hell. Why anybody would voluntarily go out dancing in such a place is entirely beyond me.
On the 22nd we went on to the Dinn Ri in Carlow. This is a fairly new venue, about twice the size of Electric Avenue. Carlow is an incredibly small town. In fact I can honestly say that I’d ‘done’ the Carlow town centre in about fifteen minutes. I’ve discovered that the Bagel Factory is a good default destination for coffee action whilst in Ireland. Luckily, there was one opposite the bus. Nice touch.

The show went really well. It was good to finally all the on the same stage. Although we did have to erect a little extension to the side for Chip and his enormous percussion rack.
Yesterday we were at the An Tain Theatre in Dundalk. The town looked really lovely but everything was shut as it was a Sunday. Bugger.
Pete’s wife arrived from Belfast with an assortment of costume goodies for us to wear on stage, including a great vintage top hat for me and a floor-length leather mac and trilby for Mark’s Invisible Man getup. By the time Mark was ready for the show we couldn’t even look in his general direction without cracking up. I think he won the award for best outfit…

The An Tain is a proper seated theatre venue with a massive stage. We finally got to use some of the lighting gear we’d been carting around and the show looked fantastic thanks to our LD Dom. It made such a difference to the show, with proper lighting. This was easily the best show thus far.
We’ve had some bloody awful loadouts so far on the tour. Mainly because we end up trying to do it right in the middle of chucking out time at all the local bars and clubs. I have found myself simultaneously assuming the roles of roadie, bouncer ad bodyguard after some of the shows. Although we didn’t have this problem last night, it wound up being the worst loadout to date due to the pouring rain and freezing cold. A cunning flight of slippery steps made matters a little more tricky. Nice.
I’m really looking forward to playing the Dublin Olympia tomorrow. It’s one of my favourite venues to play in Ireland. I’ve done it a few times with The Divine Comedy and once with A Girl Called Eddy when we supported The Beautiful South a few years ago. Neil’s coming to see the show too, so it’ll be great to catch up.
I’ll let you know how it all goes….
Duke Special’s fantastic new album I Never Thought This Day Would Come was released in Ireland last month. It’s available over here for download at the iTunes store, or you can buy the CD direct from the Duke Special Store.

2 Responses to “Tales From The Undertaker; On Tour With Duke Special, Part I”

  • Anonymous Says:

    Great blog Simon.

    I was considering becoming a professional musician before I read this, but I’m afraid you have put me right off. I’ve put the trumpet back in the attic.

    Tim H.

  • Simonlittlebass Says:

    Hi Tim.
    Life as a professional musician can be really precarious, but also incredibly rewarding. You never really have any financial security and unless you are one of the top guys there’ll always be a struggle to stay afloat. But when it’s working, it’s the best job in the world. I never forget that I basically earn a living doing what I love best; which still seems crazy to me and rather miraculous.
    I hope you didn’t get the wrong idea from the blog (it’s part 1 of 3, mind..). I had the most amazing two weeks touring with these guys. All the shows were fantastic and you really couldn’t hope to be out on the road with a better bunch of people.
    Don’t let me put you off playing for a living. Get your trumpet out and have a go. It’s hard work, but if you really want that to be your life and are willing to put the work in then you’ll have a great time.

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