And I'm so glad we made it
After The Stables a day back at work, especially after 4 days on the road was a bit strange; I wish I’d taken it off now! But things were about to take a turn for the worse. Without going into too many details the shit really hit the fan when I got home that night. It meant that I didn’t get to bed until quite late and then I was too stressed to sleep properly. I even rang CJ who I was sharing a hotel room with and told him I might not be there.
Next morning I was certain I wasn’t going to get there but at the last moment my ex-Mother in Law told me to go. It was later than I would have liked to have set off but I was on my way. I literally threw stuff into a bag and went. Luckily I'd decided back at the Astoria that I wouldn't tape Manchester so I could really enjoy myself, so no taping equipment to sort out. I reckoned it would take me about 4 and a half hours, which would get me into Manchester in time for the second half of the pre-show party.
Oh I haven’t told you about that! Some of our friends in the north, sorry int’ north had booked a room at the Life café for a last night of the tour pre-show get together. There was going to be music from Scottish cover band Workingman’s Deed and others. There would be cakes and all sorts of stuff. The band had been invited via Mark and had said they would try and get along. I had this terrible sinking feeling that Bobby would turn up before I got there and everyone would be full of how they'd met him!
< Workingman's Deed
Anyway a caffeine fuelled journey ground to a halt as soon as I turned onto the M6 - I should have listened to the little voice in my head that was saying M1>M62 but I didn't. There was a traffic jam that stretched from J2 to J12 and beyond. I even managed at one point to reverse my car into a wall at a service area. It was going downhill rapidly.
I went from thinking "I'll get there for the second half of the party" to "I'll get there for the last hour" to "Oh well at least I'll get there for the gig" to "Oh shit, they are going to be on stage before I get there". Eventually I arrived in the City Centre and put the car in the first car park I found which was under G-MEX. I was bursting to go to the loo and I knew the venue was round here somewhere but which way?
Eventually, hopping around like a loony I got my bearings and headed off towards the venue. I met up with some local Deadheads on the way, which eased my journey, and knowing so many people by now meant I managed to jump the queue and get to the loo!! Comment was made about the fact that there was a largish Police presence outside - maybe the Dead's reputation still followed them! (But my brother tells me there is often a large presence there because it's a trouble hotspot).
The Life Café, once I had a chance to look around was the smallest place I'd seen them in so far. There didn't seem to be that much room between the bar at the back and the stage but there was a balcony which put me in mind of another venue I remembered from my Salford University days - the Gallery.
Between the Stables and Manchester I'd asked the question on Eurotraders "who was that strange woman" And the answer had come back "It was Ruth" but just to make matters worse Alasdair had told Ruth what I'd said and then I saw him pointing me out to her!! She came over and asked me if I thought she was strange. In my defence I pointed out that I'd only said strange it was the rest who'd said Ruth!! I also said that she was strange in a nice way, which seemed to placate her! Phew!
Anyway I got myself a space near the front, somebody - can't remember who! - bought me a drink, and waited for them to come on. However the stress continued when the woman next to me moaned every time I moved! She'd flown into from the states just for this gig apparently, which gave her the right to watch it from the front in comfort - bollocks!
Set I: Jam > Loose Lucy > Truckin’ > It’s all
over now, Baby Blue > Brown-Eyed Women,
I was still a little stressed when the band came on and started off with a jam that ended up being Loose Lucy and for the first time on the tour I hadn't picked up on it! Then in what was a portent of what was to come Truckin' followed. Moaning American woman had gone by now so I chilled out and watched what was shaping up to be a fine show!
A steady stream of great songs followed until just before the set break Bob started the riff to Scarlet Begonias Woo Hoo! And when it got to the end instead of going into Fire as you would of expected it took a sharp left turn and morphed into Aiko - the place went nuts!! I was kinda hoping that the audience would keep up the Aiko chant after the band left the stage but sadly not but wow what a set - how could they better that?
I set off to visit the loo and for the second time in the tour may have spent longer in there than I should have done! I got myself a beer and returned to where I was standing near the front. The good thing about this venue was that there wasn't a huge PA stack, which improved the visibility of the band. Having said that the stage was quite small and he band looked quite squashed. My friend Ian actually ended up leaning on the keyboards for the second set!!
Set II: Candyman, Bury Me Standing, Black-Throated
Wind, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl > Ashes and Glass > Jam, Wharf Rat
> St. Stephen > William Tell Bridge > The Eleven >
The second set kicked off with acoustic versions of Candyman, Bury Me Standing and then Black Throated Wind before heading off into storming versions of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Ashes and Glass. The mid set jam was up next and when Bobby returned the set just got better. Wharf Rat was fantastic but out of the end of it came the familiar opening notes of St Stephen. The audience went wild and my mind was racing. I was 99% sure that I'd seen a setlist which said they'd gone from St. Stephen into the Eleven via the William Tell Bridge!! Would they do that, would they?
YES! High green chilly winds and windy …… This was probably the highlight of the whole tour and probably the closest I'll ever get to knowing what it was like at the Fillmore in 69! A wonderful moment!
Watching Mark Karan was a treat, when he goes for it he looks as if he has too many notes and is having to juggle to keep them in the air. Like any juggler he struggles and has to dip to keep them from falling before rising once again when he has them under control. At the end of the bridge the band took off with the Eleven but it still wasn't over and the set finished with Not fade away. Again I was hoping the audience would keep the beat going instead of shouting for an encore but no. What could possibly follow that ending - the answer? A marvellous version of Brokedown Palace that's what! After which Jay introduced the band in his boxing referee voice and they were gone.
We all retired to the bar to drink, chat and enthuse about the show. Chris showed me his photos from Canterbury, which he’d printed up. So far he’d got them all signed except the one of Kenny and the one of Bobby. Also a chap Paulo who I’d met at Canterbury was telling me that his wife was taken ill at the festival and been hospitalised. Despite this she’d told him to go on the rest of the tour!!! That day they’d seen a perfect card and so far had 4 of the bands signatures on it.
After a while I saw Chris in the hall talking to Bobby!! So I slipped past the security and before I knew where I was, I was standing inches from the man himself. I had planned to get him to sign my ticket but I couldn’t find it – can you believe that? So I rummaged in my bag and eventually found the credit card part of the receipt. I gingerly asked him if he could sign it explaining that I’d managed to lose my ticket, I think I also managed to get the words “thanks for coming over man” out.
Now back before the Astoria gig I'd bought those t-shirts from tie-dye Bruce and at the time I'd joked with him that if I met Bob in Manchester I'd make sure I was wearing one of his t-shirts and I'd get a picture of it! And that's exactly what I was doing. Somehow I managed to get this story out as unbelievably the person standing next to me (who turned out to be Paul McFadyen) was also wearing one of tie-dye Bruce's shirts. So the picture was taken and I handed CJ my camera and he took one with that too.
Paul, Bobby, me and Paulo kneeling >
I wandered back into the bar in a state of shock and showed everyone the picture!! I sent a text to anyone I knew who would understand - actually that amounted to Beth and she was asleep anyway!! To everyone's surprise Bobby joined us in the bar and was signing stuff and generally chatting. At one point I did find my ticket stub and plucked up enough courage to go back and say "Hey Bob I've found my ticket now can you sign it" - He did - what a nice man.
He seemed willing to put up with quite a lot from some pretty crazy fans (including someone kissing his knees) but my favourite bit was when Claire had been down to collect her guitar from the room where the afternoon party had been and she asked Bobby to sign it. This he did and to Claires delight he took it off her tuned it and gave it a bit of a strum. Sadly it all happened so fast that no one managed to get a picture.
The overwhelming question Bobby was being asked was when would the Dead be coming over. The answer I heard was when he was asked to bring the rest of the band over he simply replied, "I've got my best people working on it”. What a man! The get well soon card also got finished with the last 2 signatures
Eventually we were asked to leave and the party headed out onto the street before people headed back to hotels. I ended up back at my hotel without change of clothes, toiletries etc as they were all back in the car and I was buggered if I was going off to look for them. A few beers and some sleep before I eventually went to sleep, as I had to get up early the following morning to get to work.
What a week. They’d all been great but Manchester was special - maybe because it was Ratdog's 500th show or maybe because it was Mars' closest approach to Earth for 73,000 years or then again because it was the anniversary of Veneta or just because I got to meet Bobby!! Who cares it was great and Fuck Me I almost didn't go!!
The heart, soul and spirit of the Grateful Dead is alive and well and residing in Ratdog!
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