A ripping piano yarn
So I arrive at the check-in desk at Heathrow airport and tell them where I’m going and what my name is. I always feel a little doubtful when I do this that it’s actually going to work, that they’ll look at me incredulously and demand a huge docket of paperwork that demonstrates my entitlement to travel. Years of following this procedure though, (and on occasion turning up not actually knowing what city I’m going to, just a vague idea of which country it might be) has made me a little complacent, I guess.
I know that Tour Manager Marguerite will have been as dotted-of-i and crossed-of-t as she ever is, so I know that somewhere in my phone will be the email with my flight confirmation details. I eventually find the required code and recite it to the lady behind the desk who repeats it to someone on the phone. She shakes her head and laughs. “Well he doesn’t *look* like an Anne-Rose”.
“I can be Anne-Rose if it helps me get to Toronto” I offer helpfully. She’s still engrossed in the phoneceall though.
“Yes probably Copenhagen”.
Now I like Copenhagen, but it’s not really on my list of places to be today.
She tries to explain, but it’s beyond me. Someone with the same surname as me, but a double barrelled first name, has checked in over in Copenhagen. Someone there pressed the wrong button, so she has become me and now I’m her. I never knew that these people wielded such power. I say I’m cool with it if they are. I’ve still got a posh seat and we both land in the same place at the same time. Let’s just get to the lounge, eh? Names are for tombstones, baby…
I take my dubious documentation and plough onwards. The airport is in full Olympic chaos mode.
I decide to proceed direct to the gate, in the hope that there is a little respite from the crowds over there. This involves a short train journey. The carriage is resplendent with the same flocks of the world’s most lost. I miss my stop because it’s impossible to move. Never mind, I think. This thing is a loop. I’ll wait ’til they’ve all gone and start again, but I can snag pole position by the door for the next lap.
We reach the last stop and a woman who has clearly never thrown away her Prefect badge tells me (in no uncertain terms) that I’m to get off the train immediately. I argue, I plead, I beg, but she is a formidable opponent. She is here to ensure that the Olympics are secure and I am not to interfere. She waves me off up the stairs with talk of checking in again and going through security again.
“Yes, hello” I wince as I arrive at the transfers desk “my name is Anne-Rose…”
I’m standing at another counter in front of another confused individual. She gets on the phone and reads out some numbers from my boarding card. “Well he doesn’t *look* like an Anne-Rose…..”. I begin to slump in my shoes and think of getting back home to bed. I’m starting to quite fancy it.
“Ah yes – Copenhagen – right…”
I’m waved onwards and twenty minutes later I plop down into seat 20A to YYZ feeling as though I’ve already completed an assault course.
The flight attendant is wheeling the drinks trolley past and absently enquires over the partition “would you like a drink, Miss? Er? Oh….”
“Cup of tea and a double vodka please”.
And so to Cananda…
Now I did promise to have a yarn-clearout, didn’t I?
This has got pretty long already though, so I’m going to channel the 2002 Christopher Martin. On the first tour I did with the band (Rush Of Blood), Chris was forever legging it back to the mic after the house lights had come up and people had begun to leave. “The regular Coldplay concert is over, but I’ve got this song I’ve been fiddling with – if you want to hear it, you can stick around – if you think it’s shit, you can go home.”
Same goes. Those with time to kill can stick with me as I gas on about wet pianos and stadium shows. Anyone with a better offer (which has to include pretty much anything, really) you are formally excused.
Still here? Right, this began as a blog from Dallas show one on the last leg – about getting back indoors, under a roof and in the dry. Here goes:
Me, I’m all for it right now. I loved the stadiums and always have, but arenas do feel very, very comfy. No rain, no worries and no need to plan your trips to catering around the half hour round trip which that can sometimes entail.
While we’re talking transitions from huge outdoors to merely ‘very big’ indoor ones, I should probably wrap up the last of the stadium shows, which I’ve not mentioned in these pages yet. Now, I’ll say right here, that the following is not a tale for the faint hearted. Certainly too, I should mention that what follows has a very narrow focus on what happened in my world on these shows – not the *only* things that happened. But they happened to me and I’m writing, so…
It all began on the second Emirates Stadium show. I was under the stage trying to solve a somewhat perplexing technical issue that had caused Rihanna to arrive somewhat later than planned on the video screen the night before. There’s actually a crowd of us working around my rack trying to work out at exactly what point in the signal chain goes from glorious harmony to crazed technical fizzle.
Suddenly, through the speakers perched on my rack, I hear a piano firing one note like a machine gun. Either someone is sat playing something extremely avant-garde at one of Chris’s pianos out on the stage, or I have more trouble than I first thought.
By employing a methodology commonly referred to as “unplugging one thing at a time until the fucking noise stops”, I determine that the problem is coming from the piano out on the B-stage. Not good. Andy, my co-conspirator, takes off with a laptop to run some tests. Soon he’s radioing back that the poor old b-stage upright has had a complete nervous breakdown. Even with gentle coaxing (turning it off and on again) it can’t be convinced to play nicely – it just wants to perform the jackhammer sonata. Very not-good.
We do, of course, have a spare piano, so it’s hurriedly thrown up onto the ramp (equipment failures always make me want to hurriedly throw up…) and the pianos are switched out. This leaves us good for a show, but nowhere to go should there be more problems. (Which, at the rate we’ve been going, is more likely than not.)
We get the errant piano into the loading dock and begin to pull it apart. Besides enough butterflies to stuff a mattress, there is a pretty impressive amount of water in there. We get to work clearing it out and putting fans on it for a bit of air drying. From memory, the show passed with pleasantly little in the way of surprises.
Fast forward to Sunderland a couple of nights later. My folks are in attendance, making any visits from the fuck-up-fairy particularly unwelcome. It’s rainfall the like of which would have any sane individual refusing to leave the house. Perfect for a Coldplay stadium show, then.
Chris launches into Paradise and it sounds pretty different from the standard version. Improvisation? Freeing himself from the bounds of rigid harmonic structures? No. The piano is fucked.
There’s a full on Keystone-Cops-meets-F1-pit-crew moment and there is a new piano in place for him. They make it through Paradise and head for the C-stage. As they’re out there, the familiar machine-gun-sonata begins through my speakers. Oh Lord. The piano we calmed down in London has relapsed in the downpour.
We’ve got the length of “Speed Of Sound” to get the piano out from underneath the B-stage, up the ramp and onto the mainstage in time for Clocks.
There’s two dead pianos lying on their backs on the skate-ramp stage right. Some gigs have a bunch of broken drumsticks behind the drum riser by the end – we’re going through timber at a slightly more alarming rate.
We skin-of-the-teeth it through to the end of the Sunderland show, but the horror begins to dawn, that we have one good piano now and after the day off, we have two stadium shows in one day – at opposite ends of the country – and the helicopter that’s getting us between them is not piano-friendly.
Our Wembley Stadium Radio festival is already being handled by the old piano that Vicki Taylor painted for the Viva Grammy awards. We also know a hire company that has the same model (in black) they can hire to us as a spare. That’s that sorted then. A van is booked with a reliably lead-footed driver to get these two pianos from London to Manchester. He’s convinced he can get the journey done with enough time for the pianos to be onstage by showtime that night.
There’s talk of getting the pianos a police escort into the Manchester show in case he gets stuck in gig traffic. Andy is still in Manchester holding the fort. His number comes up on my phone and I answer “Please don’t be bad news, please don’t be bad news, please don’t….”
“None of the pianos up here is working properly – not one”.
“That’s bad news”.
Potentially, this could get really rubbish. We could easily be sat pacing anxiously ten minutes to show with no working pianos and a van stuck somewhere outside Manchester.
It’s the stuff of nightmares and then something beyond my wildest dreams happens. I get a call from Yamaha UK. I’ve mailed them asking if there is any way at all they can help – a repair, a loan, anything. The piano we use was discontinued years and years ago, so they don’t even carry it anymore, so my hopes weren’t high. The ones we use we have to bid for on eBay against folks who want them because it’s “as used by Coldplay”. They’re rarer than rocking horse shit. (And right now, all of the ones we have in Manchester are about as much use…)
Felicity from Yamaha tells me of a fella in their service department who refuses to throw anything away, because it’s all “bound to come in useful”. This sounds embarrassingly like myself and a lot of us on the crew. Apparently though, the chap in question has a special room in the warehouse that is known as his dump. In there, there is not one, but TWO of our beloved pianos with a huge sign on them saying “DO NOT THROW AWAY, COLDPLAY WILL RING UP AND ASK FOR THESE ONE DAY”.
This kind of stuff simply does not happen. It’s like a gift from the roadie-gods. The ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. I eventually have to stop frothing my thanks and praise in their direction for long enough to arrange a van to get them to Manchester immediately. I go to call Andy to tell him the good news, but notice that there’s a voicemail from him.
Turns out that Xylobands inventor Jason, has recently bought a “Coldplay piano” from eBay for his son. An hour ago it was sat in his living room, but now, it’s in a van speeding towards the Manchester show. Word also reaches us that Paris is in town. And he’s got his spray cans! Incredible. He reckons if he gets to work right away when the new pianos arrive, he can have them Mylo-ed up and ready to go by showtime. Just staggering.
By rights, we should not have had a show tonight – on paper, we were completely beaten. Someone, somewhere though, is looking out for us.
By the time we make it up from London, most of the vans coming from all corners have arrived and the Manchester gig is positively awash with pianos (Eight of them, I believe). I pass stage manager Craig Finley, as I head up to the stage to check things out. “You’ve got a LOT of effin pianos here today young man”
(Photo from Mr Finley’s Facebook)
“Yeah, and with any luck, a couple of ‘em work!”
We round up the dead and send them back to Yamaha.
The final two Manchester shows are two of the only ones on the tour with not a drop of rain. Whoever has our backs is going well above and beyond…
To cap it all, I get a message on my phone on the day of the final Manchester show. It’s “Gaz” the fella I bought one of our eBay pianos from last year. Up until Sunderland, it had been Chris’s main piano. Gaz had listed it on eBay “as used by Coldplay” and eventually sussed that it was us buying it. His first words when he found out were “you’re not gonna paint it mad colours are ya?”.
“Um, sorry fella…”
Today, he’s got tickets for the show and he quite fancies meeting up to have a look at his old pride and joy in the centre of the Coldplay stage. I break it to him that not only have we graffiti-ed it up to the eyeballs, but we’ve spent the summer standing it in the middle of torrential downpours with just a shower cap for protection.
I meet him and his missus and tell him the tale I’ve just told you. He shakes his head in utter disbelief – and quite rightly so.
He has a photo taken next to one of our newly recruited pianos – for his is in the sick bay many miles away now.
Talking of all this reminds me – I need to phone a fella about some waterproofing, once we land in Toronto. We’ll be back in the great outdoors again in only a few weeks.
Never a dull moment…