Woke up for the last day in the tour in mixed emotions. The sense of upcoming accomplishment was very exciting and fulfilling, but the knowledge that this is the last day of this tour was extremely, extremely saddening. And here’s a thought: I’ve been travelling mostly alone for the last four months, and sensing the end was very hard for me; therefore, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for the band members, each having to go their own way after four months of bonding.
It was a brilliant sunny & pleasant morning in Bilbao when I checked out of my hotel and proceeded to the hotel right nearby, waiting for the airport bus to arrive. Saturday mornings are very quiet at 8:30am, and being Bilbao such a beautiful city, this looked like some sort of a haven I’d really like to spend more time in. Alas, my Spanair flight was scheduled to depart at 11:00am; I’ll save something for my next visit.
Quick bus ride, and arrived at Bilbao’s tiny airport fifteen minutes later, about two hours prior to departure. Having learned the lesson from the luggage fiasco a few days before, I reorganized stuff so I can ensure extremely important items are with me on‐board. Once I was done, I was perfectly fine with kissing this backpack goodbye until I’m back home in Toronto.
A quick glance at the departure table; flight as been delayed by an hour. No biggie, I thought, and went to the check‐in line.
I guess air‐travel in Spain can’t go through without some aggravation, and the last day of the tour was no exception. Approaching the check‐in counters, I discovered that Spanair has two desks: one for regular passengers, having a line‐up of about the entire population of Bilbao, and another adjacent desk labelled for “Star Alliance Gold” members who receive the benefit of quick check‐in. Only one attendant there, serving both booths. I was very annoyed as I checked‐in online the night before and all I had to do was to tag my luggage.
As I noticed that things aren’t going to be moving quickly at all, I suddenly noticed one tall fellow attempting to use an automated machine, right by the desk, to scan his i‐Fail. Approached and spoke to him: well, that machine had a sign on it explaining what it’s for—in Spanish only. Apparently what that machine does is scan the barcode from your online boarding pass and prints the luggage tags for you.
The question that remained was, then, once the luggage is tagged, where do I put my luggage? He pointed me at the LCD screen above the “Star Alliance Gold” desk. That screen contained all bunch of logos and promos: “Star Alliance… Gold… Premier Class…” and so forth, and the word “drop‐off” was printed there among all those marketing slogans in a font so small that you really had to stand very close to it in order to read.
The guy went on to tell me that the reason for the delay is a quasi‐strike going on in Madrid airport. Instead of declaring a formal strike, half of the flight controllers in Madrid airport decided to announce themselves (to a doctor, who in turn provided them with a note) “sick”.
No luck for the nice tall guy with the machine; tried my luck—the barcode wouldn’t scan. So now what, am I going to wait for the entire population of Bilbao to check‐in?
“THIS IS SPAIN”, the voice kept ringing at the back of my head. This is, indeed, Spain; when in Rome, be a Roman—and when in Spain, apparently you have to behave Spanish otherwise you won’t get bloody anywhere. Went to the fancy booth with the slogans and explained that I worked very hard last night (about 2 minutes in front of my computer) to save time at check‐in, and I shouldn’t be responsible for their barcode machines breaking down. Didn’t have to say anything more than that—the lady checked me in, emergency exit row and everything.
Good! Then walked to security, passed, and I’m by the gates. Still some time to departure so why not eat anything? A cured ham sandwich (I’m telling you, I had so many of those dry disgusting baguettes with ham inside while in Spain, that I don’t want to see a baguette for the rest of my life) and another sandwich over Spanish tortilla, ridiculous coffee and I sat down to consume yet another disappointing Spanish meal.
As I was taking another miserable bite off a miserable sandwich, I received an email from orbitz.com (through which I purchased the flight) that there’s yet another delay and my flight is scheduled to depart at 1:00pm now—that’s two hours after the original departure time.
Like a machine, my mind started sorting through the options. It is absolutely amazing how the mind gets adjusted to deal with such circumstances after one is presented with such challenges so often—having said that, it wasn’t any less stressful than before.
- Checked alternative flights: maybe flying from Bilbao to Barcelona and take a train? A flight was available, but a quick check of the train schedule revealed that I won’t be in Madrid before 7:00pm. Fail.
- I remembered two lovely individuals who suggested to give me a ride from Bilbao to Gredos—David and Pierre; called David—he’s already near Gredos; emailed Pierre—no response. Fail.
- Just leave the airport, rent a car and drive to Gredos: Hertz was the only one with a car available. $286 (!) for a one‐way rental, one day. Not including fuel and stuff. Didn’t strike that one out, but kept seeking other alternatives.
- Should Jeroen (who arrived in Madrid early morning) drive all the way to Bilbao and then we drive together to Gredos? That’s a 4:30 hours detour; I’m convinced, though, that had that been the only option, he would do it. Anyway, Fail.
- Hitch‐hike south? I don’t speak Spanish and I wasn’t in the mood to be stuck in a car with a random individual who may choose to throw me out at any time. Fail.
- Taxi‐cab half‐way towards Madrid, and meet Jeroen there? would cost less than a one‐way rental car. On to the “possible alternatives” cart.
Computing all of that information took a few minutes, after which I reached a decision: if the flight does not leave by 2:00pm, I’m renting a car and meeting Jeroen in Gredos. On to the phone with one of the only three people in the entire world whom I would trust to perform a thorough evaluation in cases like these—well, that would be Jeroen himself. Two minutes to perform cost / benefit / risk calculation and we arrived at the same conclusion. We also decided that, as soon as my flight departs, Jeroen should go to the car‐rental counter and do whatever it is that’s needed to be done to get the car, in order to save time. Good.
(I’m feeling like I’m writing a script for some action movie; sorry about that. Just describing what went through my head)
Boarding time was scheduled for 12:25pm; I kept watching the departures board anxiously—by 12:05pm, twenty minutes to boarding, still no gate was assigned for the flight. Screen flickered; another change—delay of additional 3 minutes. OK that’s fine.
Down to the gate, still following things closely to ensure we’re departing on time. Boarding went fast and smooth, airplane started taxiing around. We’re departing. Good, we’re one step closer.
Flight went without any incidents except for the end. I was working away on my laptop blogging, and time came to pack everything as we started descending towards Madrid. Flight attended comes over and speaks in a soft sexy voice—“please turn it off”.
Sure, darling. Hit the button on my Netbook which immediately obeyed and entered standby mode. As I was picking the Netbook up in order to insert it into the sleeve, the flight attended bugged me again.
– “Please turn it off”, she said in a much less sexy voice.
– “I did”, I replied the obvious.
– “(Pointing at the blinking blue led indicating the Netbook is on standby state) So what is this?”
– “That’s the standby indicator”, I said. I’m always happy to teach and mentor.
– “So turn it off”, came the bark.
I was a bit confused.
– “You must be kidding me, aren’t you?”, I said.
– “No, I am not kidding. It has to be turned off, not on standby”, the lady retorted, and then left.
OK so there are two angles to look at this story. The obvious one would be to challenge the sub‐stupid instruction demanding devices such as a laptop to be completely turned off, rather than on standby (obviously I’m not complaining about the flight‐attendant, but rather about whoever instructed her). The difference between the two modes is completely irrelevant to flight safety (Bill, if you’re reading this, how about commenting with some info? If I made a stupid statement, please mock me).
That obscenely‐brainless instruction is very new to me and I only encountered it here in Spain, along with the yet another absolutely stupid requirement that smart‐phones must be turned off completely—“flight‐mode” is not sufficiently “safe”.
I could barely stop myself from inquiring the flight attendant whether she bothered asking each and every passenger to look through their carry‐on baggage and remove the batteries from any battery‐operated device they may have (as long as the battery is attached to the device, it’s pretty much identical to having a laptop on standby). I would be delighted to see a few blushing female faces on board.
But I did (stop myself, that is).
The other angle you can look at this story from is wider and has something to do with human behaviour. It seems like, in many areas of life, things keep being more and more “restrictive”. There are a few reasons for that—one of which is unrelated to this story but is just as annoying (extraneous attempts to “please everybody” in order to avoid confrontation. “Political Correctness”, that is. What a shitty concept); the one that is relevant here though is the theory that claims that “in order to have people obey all necessary restrictions, you have to impose stringer ones” (or: “aim high in order to get acceptable results”). This shift in the way the masses are “handled” is very worrying and I doubt I’m the only one who’s more than a bit annoyed by it.
So yes, all of that went through my head in just under two minutes as I returned my laptop to the sleeve, then back to the overhead cabin and sat down waiting for touching ground. We finally touched ground at 2:00pm.
Down at the luggage hall, waiting by the belt, I was happy that I made it on time. I knew Jeroen was already waiting outside; the sign above the luggage belt showed that our luggage is just about to arrive.
Will you believe me that it took about 45 minutes (!) for that fucking belt to start rolling? That’s like an hour after the airplane parked at the gate. People there started losing their nerves and calling all sorts of attendants who could not (or did not want) to do the slightest thing about it. It was at that point when I decided that, unless under extreme conditions, I will never, ever fly in Spain again.
The backpack finally arrived; one minute to hook stuff up together and I stormed out of the hall. Was so good to see Jeroen there and, I’m telling you folks, the knowledge of going to see the final show with this guy was worth tons for me.
We rushed through the terminal on our way to pick‐up the car; Jeroen told me that it took him 45 minutes (!) to get his car—the result of a line‐up as well as extreme inefficiency of the attendants. Good thing we saved a lot of time. Off to the car—unfortunately, not a convertible this time (that would cost €300 for a day!), but rather a somewhat disgraceful compact car. All luggage in, ignition on.
In a snap, memories of the North American tour kept flashing in my mind. Last time we shared a car was when crossing North America together a few months ago, attending all North American shows. We both share vivid memories of that fantastic tour—dubbed by Jeroen “the best trip I ever had in my life”. The act of driving together to see the last show on the tour was rather symbolic: a perfect closure.
GPS turned on; set the destination to Hoyos del Espino, and then added Ávila as a via‐point to see how much time it would add to the ride. Ávila is the closest sizable city to Hoyos del Espino, and is where I booked our hotel for the night—we wanted to see whether checking into the hotel imposes any substantial delays. Answer: 4 minutes. Good. We will check in before going to the venue.
Arrived at the hotel, checked in, uploaded my Bilbao blog post. A deep breath; final preparations and off we went—driving to Hoyos del Espino, for the last concert this tour. Time: 5:00pm, about 2:30 hours before markknopfler.com early entry privilege. Time to destination: about 40 minutes.
The concert’s announcement used the expression “Gredos (Ávila)” as the location. That was actually misleading: Gredos is not a town, it’s actually the name of a mountain range (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_de_Gredos); Ávila is the closest sizable city to where the concert was to take place. The venue itself was in a town named Hoyos del Espino (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoyos_del_Espino)—a town boasting some 451 inhabitants (as of 2004; yeah, that’s the latest info I have from Wikipedia). Yes, that’s 451. Four hundred and fifty one people live there, while 10,000 people were expected to attend the concert. You do the math.
The road from Ávila to Hoyos del Espino is pretty at times, but most of the time it is sort‐of like a slightly‐upgraded version of Arizona. Semi‐green desert, with nice mountains on the horizon.
As you get closer to the mountains, you start seeing more and more tiny towns and villages—I’d be surprised if any of those has its population exceeding a few hundreds. The roads become narrower, winding at times—at least, it was for us as the GPS guided us through some detours (there were significant differences between the GPS’s instructions and Google Maps’ instructions). At some point, we started doubting whether we’re at the right place at all; but after a while, we finally entered Hoyos del Espino and started seeing more people activity. Yes, we’re at the right place; made it to the concert on time.
Parking was a breeze, for the sole reason that we arrived early (after the concert, as we left the venue, we realized what mayhem it must have been getting to the venue later). I was starving (having had just that one poor sandwich at the airport in the morning), Jeroen too so as soon as we picked‐up the tickets, we went for food. What’s for sale? Of course! Yet more fucking Bocadillos, with the “traditional” fillings of sausage, ham or cheese. €4 for an ugly sandwich—not just because I’m damn sick and tired of this poor excuse for “eating” but also because the baguette was so dry and repulsive that I would challenge whoever would dare calling this “food”. Alas, it is what it is, that’s what we have here.
With disgusting baguettes in our hands, we started walking down the path towards the venue. Not a lot of people there—two line‐ups, one for general admission and one for markknopfler.com ticket owners.
There were about 5–10 people in front of us at the markknopfler.com line‐up; we had nothing better to do so we hanged around there. Mikel Camps was in the premises and it was good seeing him, as always. A few minutes later, we were greeted by a very nice chap who came up with an idea: since we’re not going to be too many people at the markknopfler.com line‐up, why not prepare a list, ordered by time of arrival, and then people can just go about their ways without having to be stuck in the sun?
Good idea. Apparently, he already had such a list so he added Jeroen & myself to it. Number 18 & 19. We then started discussing between ourselves the viability of such an idea from a scientific and behaviouristic angle, brushing on a few concepts for Queue Theory and human behaviour in tribal environments (you may be surprised to know how fascinated I am with human behaviour, especially when you can correlate it to scientific measures. You didn’t see that coming, now did you). In a nutshell, we concluded that such a system can work if and only if all humanoids in the line‐up adhere to it, and there is some sort of a boundary on the number of people, beyond which this system is bound to fail.
At the meantime I was recognized by a few fans there; discussions started about how the hell did I manage to attend all shows in the tour, plus the unavoidable question that is so consistently asked and so consistently ignored by me regarding my income. It beats the living shit out of me why would people think that money is the biggest problem in such a journey, while the true biggest hurdle is one’s inner self.
Nice chaps, anyway.
7:35pm, Mikel arrived at the gates and we started marching in, making our way towards the entrance. I was amazed by the fact that we all, more or less, preserved our order. Of all countries I’ve been to so far, Spain was the last one I’d expect such a system to work in (OK, I’m lying: it would probably fail much earlier in Israel). Another ticket‐check at the entrance to the venue, the usual run towards the stage and we captured my favourite location: the right‐hand side of the stage, between Mark and Richard.
Now that we were in, things started to feel more “real”. Yes, I am going to watch the last concert in this tour; and despite all hurdles, I did, indeed, make it to all of them.
A short bathroom break before the public enters the venue; took pictures from my way to the WC and back.
(The small stage you see at the last picture was for the secondary act—a band called Baby Arizona. The way this night worked as that Mark’s performance was actually a warm‐up for Baby Arizona who captured the stage at around 12:00am. OK, you know I’m kidding)
Back to my location and I was immediately recognized by yet another group of fans. I had no idea that my name made it all the way there, and I was humbled by the number of people who knew of this little trip I’ve been doing. Many thanks to all of you.
And then… It started.
First came the very same guy who handed me the pack of “Local Crew” shirts in Albany, and who recognized me later in Denmark unbelieving that I made it all the way there. I’m pretty sure that guy is at a management capacity within the crew. He came by, shook my hand and expressed complete amazement and appreciation to the fact that I made it to every single show. Cheers mate… I told you so. :-)
Minutes later, a familiar figure appears. Tim Hook, Mark’s tour manager, came by and introduced himself and we had a pleasant chat. Turned out he has actually been following this blog; I thanked him dearly as I shared some of the struggles I have had over the last four months. He then mentioned to me that he knows how I’m suffering with food in Spain, and asked me if I’d like to eat something; as I am not programmed to say “no” to food, he went back to bring a plate of goodies with a bottle of water—not before I asked him to kindly send my regards to the band and thank them dearly in my name, if I will not get the chance to do so personally. I was happy he agreed.
There I stood consuming the plate when Guy Fletcher appeared on the stage, out of nowhere, with his camera, pointed at me and took a shot of me consuming some food. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find one of those shots in his diary entry.
That little turn of events seemed to have caused some eyebrows to be raised around. It wasn’t long before Danny Cummings, Guy Fletcher and John McCusker came by. Was very happy to see them, as we had a short chat about it all, as well as the day after. Hugs with everybody and another close‐up photo by Guy, which may find its way to his diary, and I bid the trio goodbye. Excited and humbled I was, folks.
9:00pm arrived and it was so good to see Pieta Brown & Bo Ramsey on stage again. They flew‐in to Spain to be the opening act for the last concert in the tour, after being the opening‐act for Mark Knopfler throughout North America. So many memories crept in from the North American travel, as I hummed along with the music.
Half an hour into their set, I noticed Peter McKay establishing eye‐contact with me and then gesturing with his hand “later”. As he disappeared, Jeroen told me that he was holding something in his hand. I concluded that he was going to come over but didn’t realize that the opening‐act wasn’t done yet.
A minute after Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey left the stage, Paul Crockford—Mark Knopfler’s personal manager—came by and gave me this:
Contrary to what some people initially thought, this is not a tray. This is a drumhead and I suppose you could figure out who the signatures belong to. What a lovely present! I shook Paul’s hand with lots of gratitude and wished him all the best.
I was humbled by the gesture as people all around showed immense interest in what was going on. Some took pictures of the incidence, of the drumhead, of myself, of myself plus a beautiful lady who wanted to take a picture… An entire ordeal.
Looking around, the sun has already set. Beautiful surroundings:
Ten minutes later, Feelin’ Good started playing for the last time this tour; the band captured the stage and the sound emitted off the 10,000+ mouths behind me and to my side was deafening. The last show… has just begun.
The concert in Gredos is now yet another concert entering the pantheon of best concerts in the tour. A totally explosive concert that blew pretty much everyone’s minds off—Toronto‐ and Locarno‐style. Identical setlist to the night before in Bilbao, but as good as the Bilbao concert was, this concert in Gredos was better.
The band itself: None of them looked as if there are 86 concerts behind them—they played as enthusiastically as if this was the first concert in the tour. The last concert in the tour being one of the best is a phenomenon not stranger to me—the concert in Miami Beach, sealing the Kill to Get Crimson tour, was one of the best concerts in the North American leg in my opinion (I didn’t attend any European concert back then). I suppose the mixed feelings of saying goodbye to each other while finishing such a good tour brought out the best of each and every one of them.
The audience: of the best ones. Behind me, a group of youngsters (I’d be surprised if any of them is over 18 years old) were singing, dancing, jumping in the air… and the audience all around this huge beautiful venue matched. A great concert under clear sky, perfect weather and energy bursting out of the stage every second—what else could one ask for?
Border Reiver, the song that, before the tour, I had wished would open the show. A perfect starter to throw the audience off balance.
What It Is, of my favourites; the instrumental bridge before the outro solo has been one of the sections I always looked forward to, as it evolved during the tour. Over time, Mike & John got their duet to a level of perfection; listening to this while in blue mood would definitely make one shed some tears.
Sailing to Philadelphia, a song that has a very special meaning for me which I will now expose: listening to this song, along with reading Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”—together, some time between 2001–2002 when I just “discovered” Mark’s solo career—brought out the wanderlust in me. It’s Sailing to Philadelphia and its story of exploration—with a mini‐story of a young man who was seeking a bit more than what he was cut out to do—which inspired me to fly 10,000km west in search for better life.
Coyote, a fun song that sounds so much better live than in the CD that I doubt I’ll ever listen to the CD version again. Same goes for Hill Farmer’s Blues, featuring an almost‐weeping guitar tone at the outro solo;
Romeo and Juliet, which was played in each and every Mark Knopfler concert I have ever been to—while at times I grew a bit tired of it, still is a beautiful song and the arrangement the band’s been working with works wonders.
Sultans of Swing, another song that was played in each Mark Knopfler concert I ever attended, is the ultimate cheer‐squeezing song. Almost without exception, the loudest cheers in every concert followed this song.
For the last time this tour—band members’ introduction (I guess Jeroen wasn’t quick enough when Richard’s turn came up):
Done with Bonaparte followed, ending with—as usual—eight musicians improvising at once. Having the pipes played by Mike made wonders to this song.
Mike McGoldrick, I should say, is in my opinion the best thing that happened to this band since John McCusker. If and when there’s a next tour, I’d be very sad if he’s not there on the stage.
The last Marbletown… I can’t believe I’m actually writing this. As always, a beautiful performance, but this time, with quite a bit of soul in it. Guy Fletcher wrote, a few days ago, that people should by all Simfy Live recordings for this song alone; I mentioned, a few weeks ago, that if one wants to know how the band evolved over the last four months, listening to Marbletown in all concerts would suffice. It’s not a coincidence that we both noted Marbletown as something very special in that respect and basically encouraged people to listen to as many versions of it as possible: Marbletown performed 87 times is actually a story of evolution. There is such sheer amount of improvisation there that this song is a world by itself.
Some very loud Speedway at Nazareth followed, making people bounce as if they were stepping barefoot on the asphalt of an extremely warm day in Murcia; and then—Telegraph Road, of the few songs I’m going to miss the most being performed live. A perfect song to end the main show as it leaves the audience with immense passion for the encore. There’s something about that brilliantly‐overdriven Pensa that makes the outro solo of this song so explosive.
The final “cheers” session…
… And off to the usual encore. People were shouting all sorts of named, primarily Money for Nothing; I suggested they shout “A Meeting under the Tree”, which had exactly the same odds for being played. Brothers in Arms, So Far Away and the band went off the stage.
Time for the last song at the last show. Loud cheers greeted the band, and we got ourselves an excellent performance of Piper to the End—ironically, a farewell song. My wish before the tour was that this song would be the last song to be played every concert. Nobody in the audience wanted this song to end; admittedly, myself included. The outro solo… Mark waving his hand at the audience, which responded with quite a bit of noise. Last chord struck…
… And it was all over. Thinking about that moment now, I realize how I’m going to miss this.
A one‐hour ride in the dark back to the hotel through the dark, narrow and winding roads; Jeroen and I summed things up between ourselves as we both tried to not fall asleep. Arrived at the hotel; and as soon as the door closed, it occurred to me—there are no more shows.
No more shows.
(Hey, are you smiling there?)
I guess that’s it for now. I cannot believe that I am writing this, folks… just about four months (!) after leaving home. How funny it is to look back now and remember the days before it all started.
Remembering how a few months before the tour I started replying “sorry, I’m not going to be here” to all sorts of job offers, contract offers and anything that is even remotely related to work. Recession my ass; talk to somebody who gives a shit.
Everything I did from the beginning of 2010 onwards was done in preparation for this trip; that involved decisions in many aspects of life—diet, family, friends, career, money. Everything, everything was put on hold and given secondary priority, as my first and foremost priority was to do everything I can to make this trip successful. It was hard doing so, at times; one or twice, it was so hard that I actually doubted my ability to go through it all.
Such doubts though never lasted more than a few minutes.
It was so important to me that I decided to start this trip before the tour; a few days in the Vancouver / Seattle area to get into “vacation” mode—very important, as you’d be amazed how differently you look at things and analyze them once you step out of your own mental box.
And then… On the second week of April, it started. The greatest adventure in my life so far. I compressed my life into a 70 litres backpack and off I went following a group of musicians that, together, form the greatest band I know of and I doubt music can get any better than what these guys play.
So… lets see what we had there.
I had 14,000+ km spent in a car in North America, as I drove those with Jeroen Gerrits who attended all North American shows with me (along with the six London shows, three Amsterdam shows and the final show in Gredos).
Other than a car, I travelled by train; by bus; by airplanes; by taxi; hell, I was picked‐up by a UPS truck once, too.
I have seen gorgeous mountains, lakes, rivers; houses and castles on the slopes of mountains; forests; deserts; dry places; humid places.
I have seen big cities; small towns; villages; communities; new cities, old cities; ancient cities—over two continents.
I have seen shows in theatres—old and new, ugly and breathtaking; I’ve seen shows in fields, nature, ancient squares, and a few right in the middle of the city under open sky. Hell, I’ve seen two shows in Monte‐Carlo.
I had a family reunion with an aunt I haven’t seen in 20 years, and a cousin whom I had never met before.
I only had two days to spend with my dad, who arrived to Canada right in the middle of the week‐off between the tour’s two legs. Leaving to Europe after only two days with him was one of the hardest things I did.
I experienced some snow (a day or so before the tour, up the mountains around Vancouver); I’ve seen shows while standing in the rain—sometimes freezing, sometimes cozy and warm, almost always too wet; I’ve seen shows with my feet covered with mud; I’ve seen shows in brilliant weather, and I’ve seen shows in searing heat.
I met good people; I met bad people. I met fans bordering on insanity and I met fans in Atlantic City who couldn’t care less about the music. I dealt with easy people, I dealt with hard people. I dealt with jobsworthy people with authority and without authority.
I became aware (through people who forwarded me such information) of online discussions of despicable nature: Conspiracy theories all over the place, regarding my seats, my money. My time. My personal life, how can one disappear for four months. My sexual orientation! My job (or lack thereof). My career. My tendency to rant (errrrrr… take another look at the URL of this blog. See what comes between “gl” and “com”, right before the first slash? remove the dot in between, convert to space. Read it out loud. The name you just said is the name of the individual who owns this blog). Piles over piles of pristine bullshit.
I have battled with stupid railway systems; battled with hunger, with bad cuisine; battled with adjusting to mentalities and habits I was never exposed to before; battled with the memory of an old, forgotten love, and battled with the uncertainty of the future; battled with lost luggage; battled with lost / broken equipment; battled with delayed trains, and with delayed flights; even battled with sickness…
… And all of this, in order to satisfy my passion for travel; for writing; and for music. Travel I can do on my own; same goes for writing (well, that depends on who you ask); and for music, who is better to provide the soundtrack than a group of such talented, amazing musicians?
It didn’t matter what happened during the day; how I got from one place to another, who pissed me off, who made me happy. What I ate, what I drank. At the end of almost every day, I witnessed the sheer beauty of music that returned things back to equilibrium. Whatever I had to go through in order to see each concert—seemed completely irrelevant as soon as Mike McGoldrick and Matt Rollings started playing the first few bars of Border Reiver, and once the last chord was struck on “Piper to the End” (in all shows except for Antwerp; sorry, Antwerp) I knew that whatever crap that may have hit me during that day was absolutely worth it.
And with a lot of hard work, I pulled through and managed. The result: an amazing, priceless four‐months experience.
At some point over the last month, some whacko has decided to somehow draw a linkage between myself and the practice of filming shows. That particular individual accompanied his / her attempt with uploading a picture of mine to Guy Fletcher’s forum along with text implying all sorts of things concerning my sexual orientation. For the first few hours after I was informed of this, admittedly I was in a bit of a shock as I found it very hard to believe how far people would go to cause harm to somebody else, for nothing.
People mentioned that jealousy is involved, however I had—and still have—some hard time understanding this. Dismissing such cases as “jealousy” seemed a bit too simplistic: Jealousy by itself is a natural, human feeling—as well as one of the best mental driver in existence. I was jealous many times in my life—mostly as a teenager, but never (that I can recall) was jealousy a driver to do something bad—if at all, it was a driver to do something good and meaningful. A call for challenge, for exploration. An opportunity to look inside; inspect; maybe improve. Definitely not an opportunity to throw crap at somebody, let alone somebody you don’t know.
The next morning I woke up completely not caring about it. A commentator in this blog suggested that I write something about the practice of filming, implying that I endorse this practice indirectly—an implication that I find a bit strange. I contemplated whether I should write about this—after all, any attempt to link me with the practice of filming shows is obnoxiously stupid and deserves not much more than a nod.
Then, came the shows in Spain and the sheer number of people filming these shows made me decide to write something about it, so there you go. As a matter of fact, it goes beyond just filming. Filming is a symptom, or a private case, of something bigger.
During my travels I was a part of audiences counting a few hundreds to over 15,000; I shared audience space with thousands over thousands of people. Discounting concerts such as the ones in Atlantic City, Temecula and Monte‐Carlo, where seats were not necessarily occupied by asses belonging to fans per‐se, there was one thing common to almost everyone—they were there because Mark Knopfler’s music extracts something (that they seem) good out from their beings.
Think about your favourite Mark Knopfler song for a second; if you have a few of those, think about them. Think about the melody; think about the massive vibrato exerted with almost each and every note. Try to relive the first time you heard these songs, and how they “caught” you.
These songs did something to you—something that, if you’re reading this, is most likely positive. Mark Knopfler recorded a song; you listened and got a huge mental satisfaction.
I don’t know about you, but in me, as well as in most people I know, the strike of such good music ignites a very strong feeling of gratitude. Some people express such gratitude by buying a CD, or attending a concert, or conducting other “tangible” activities such as collecting, trading and so forth.
While there are so many ways to express gratitude, I find it hard to accept the fact that so many people forget the one basic ingredient that is absolutely and positively necessary in any manifestation of true gratitude: I am not talking about collecting things, or buying CD’s. I’m not talking about anything even remotely related to money. I’m talking about respect.
And when I say “respect”, I’m not referring to stating that Mark Knopfler is the best guitarist in the world. That’s not called respect; that’s called comparison and labelling. Rather, I refer to understanding what drives the artist to feel good giving the music to you to enjoy in the first place—and accept those things.
What a lot of people appear to neglect appreciating is the mere fact that the beautiful music they hear from Mark Knopfler is a result of a lot of work performed by an artist with particular personality, having particular views and particular values. You can judge that personality any which way you want, as long as you understand that you can’t tear that personality apart into pieces, respect only parts of it and publicly challenge the parts you don’t like. Mark Knopfler—upon all of his “parts”—is the Mark Knopfler who gave you those beautiful songs to enjoy; accept him and respect him as he is, and not as you would wish him to be.
So now, you’re at a concert. The artist tells you that being videotaped affects his performance. If you are videotaping a show, the very least you can do—for yourself, not for the artist—is really inquire yourself why is it that you’re doing it. If you’re so grateful for the artist’s music, what is it that makes you disrespect him like that?
When the activity being discussed is videotaping shows, the answer to that last question is, in most cases, “to have something to remember the show by”.
“Something to remember the show by”… And now, a different type of respect comes into play. A respect fairly more important than respect for personal space or respect for videotaping policies; I am talking about respecting the artist’s wish to shape his own legacy and how he wants to be remembered.
Are you so passionate about videotaping a show, that you’re willing to compromise the respect you have towards the artist for your own personal benefit?
If the answer is yes, then… well, what can I say, other than hoping that at some point you’ll change your mind. I wish that at least you would be fair with yourself and consider what I wrote; try putting yourself in the artist’s shoes. Good luck; it’s not easy.
Also during my travels, people who became familiar with this blog immediately dubbed me “Mark Knopfler’s #1 fan”, a statement which I strongly disagree with as it lacks context. I also appear to be ignorant of the criteria by which fans are “rated”. So many of you asked, that I decided to lay it on the table. There you go:
- I own Mark Knopfler’s solo CD’s. I own “Brothers in Arms” and the “Money for Nothing” compilation. The rest of the songs I own as MP3’s (legally downloaded). I relate to Mark Knopfler’s solo career much, much more to any Dire Straits material.
- I have no posters of Mark Knopfler or Dire Straits; I did, however, print a few pictures I took myself during the July 5th, 2005 concert in Toronto—the first Mark Knopfler concert I ever attended.
- I collect nothing that is related to Mark Knopfler or Dire Straits.
- Mark Knopfler’s signature exists in my house twice: one exists upon the MK Signature Stratocaster I acquired about two years ago (that’s the signature that actually comes printed on the headstock), and the other exists on the Kill to Get Crimson CD booklet. The latter was signed by Mark during a meet & greet in Boston, during the last tour; and, to be frank, I am a bit sorry I had him sign it—as a matter of fact, I regretted it about two seconds after it happened. I will spare you from the reason why.
- I don’t own any bootleg of any show, audio or video. I also am not interested in holding any such bootlegs, so, thank you but no need to ask.
- I don’t trade any Mark Knopfler / Dire Straits items.
- I was never in the vicinity of Mark Knopfler, or any other band member for the matter, without being invited prior. The closest occurrence to such an encounter was before the show in Locarno, where the cars went into the venue just as I happened to be around looking for the early‐entry location. Admittedly, I felt a bit strange at that moment.
- I never read any book about Mark Knopfler or Dire Straits.
- I have no idea about anything concerning Mark Knopfler’s personal life, other than what’s written in Wikipedia (which may also be incorrect, I don’t know—and frankly, it’s none of my business). I also have no idea about other band members’ personal lives, other than what they make publicly available. Managing my own affairs is complex enough for me.
- I hold an account in two fan forums; both accounts were created for the sole purpose of announcing my trip. I seem to recall, however, an account that I have in a third fan site, in which I wrote something about Mark Knopfler’s music, over 6–7 years ago. In essence, then, I am not active in any fan board.
So please, declaring me as Mark Knopfler’s #1 fan is sort‐of an insult for hundreds of thousands of other people. I am hereby forfeiting this title and here, watch me Frisbee‐ing it away to whoever of you who’s interested.
About a month ago, while laying down on a particularly uncomfortable bed on board one of the sleeper trains, I came across an idea. I shared it with very few close friends and decided to expose it today, at this last post.
Upon returning to Canada, I would like to approach a book publishing company and ask them for estimates regarding how much it would cost to print hardcopies of this blog—based on a few scenarios with respect to interest (obviously, preparing 100 copies would cost less than, say, 20)—
—And now comes the fun part. If you wish to have a copy of this blog as a book, the price of each book would be any price you feel like, as long as it covers the printing costs as well as the absolute cheapest delivery cost (for example, if printing the book costs $5 and shipping is $2, you can pay any amount you wish, at least $7 though). Any amount in excess of the minimum will be donated to a charity of your choice; in case you don’t name one, the donation will be made to either a charity picked my Mark himself (should he care to name one; if this idea materializes I will inquire) or to one that I will pick (if Mark remains silent on the issue).
What do you think? If you think I should pursue this, and you feel like you may have an interest in purchasing a copy, click here to open your email client and send me an email (do not change the subject line; it will be automatically populated). If you use web‐based email, simply send me an email as you usually would with the subject “Hardcopy”.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who helped along the way. The exposure of this blog went way beyond my expectations and, at times, I was truly humbled by people’s willingness to help. Clearly, this journey would be much less pleasant without such help, and I can only hope that writing this blog was enough in terms of giving back.
So many people have helped that it is very hard for me to name them all. Each email, each blog comment containing an advice was considered invaluable for me.
Thanks to Jeroen Gerrits, one of my best friends. Travelling North America by car with him was a pleasure, and I am thankful for his help along the journey—including Europe. The pictures in this blog from the North American tour, as well as from the last show, were mostly taken by him.
Thanks to Val, one quarter (actually, the prettiest quarter) of my four American friends, and to Nancy Loughery, for their continuing support and advice along the way.
Thanks to Daria & Valeria for helping me out so much while in Italy.
Thanks to James Morris who did an amazing job simplifying Europe’s train travel for me, providing invaluable insights without which I would probably end‐up stranded at least once along the way.
Thanks to Julio Bricio for his immense help in planning out the Spain travel.
Thanks to Ingrid Van de Maat for the help around Germany and The Netherlands.
Thanks to all of the readers; I hope this blog helped you, in any which way.
Thanks to all blog commentators for your support. Positive comments were always welcome; constructive, negative comments as well. The silly negative comments were also very welcome as very good entertainment (I’m telling you, that 7‐points comment just killed me).
Thanks to all of those who sent private emails containing advice, support, suggestion for rides along the way. I hope I answered all emails, and if not—my apologies.
And of course, huge thanks to (from the left, clockwise) Matt Rollings, John McCusker, Glenn Worf, Danny Cummings, Richard Bennett, Mike McGoldrick, Guy Fletcher and Mark Knopfler for providing a wonderful, ass‐kicking soundtrack for an insane four months journey. No other musical group on earth (that I know of) is worth even considering following for 87 shows over four months.
To the band members who have been following this blog—I hope you enjoyed it. For what it’s worth, this blog is dedicated to you.
Some people like these things…
- Methods of transportation used: car (North America), train (all over Europe), bus (to Córdoba, Spain), taxi (2 hours in Poland), airplane (Oslo to Hamburg; Spain; Portugal), UPS truck (getting lost in Rome). No ferries. No catapults.
- Total distance travelled by car: 8,831 miles (or 14,212.11km) in North America + approximately 236 miles (or 389km) in Europe, for a total of 9,067 miles (or 14,601.11km).
- Number of Canadian provinces visited: 3—British Columbia, Ontario, Québec.
- Number of USA states visited: 21—Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New‐Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, New‐York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New‐Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia + Washington DC.
- Number of European countries visited: 19—Ireland, UK (Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales), Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Monaco, Spain, Portugal.
- Total number of countries visited: 21.
- … Out of which, the number of countries I had some familiarity with before: 4.
- Number of missed trains: 1 (the horrendous Poland experience).
- Number of cancelled trains: 1 (Amsterdam to Dresden).
- Most boring drive: The entire state of Kansas. Try doing it in one day, trust me, it’s a lot of “fun”.
- Easiest country for train‐travel: England if you’re too sensitive to language barriers; Germany otherwise.
- Worst country for train‐travel: Poland.
- Number of concerts attended: 87.
- Number of concerts missed: 0.
- Most memorable indoor venue: Le Sporting Monte‐Carlo, Monte‐Carlo, Monaco.
- Most memorable outdoor venue: Anfiteatro Camerini, Piazzola sul Brenta, Italy.
- Best setlist surprises: A Night in Summer Long Ago, and the performance of Going Home with Phil Cunningham on accordion in Glasgow, Scotland.
- Most exciting concert moment: Mark telling John Monteleone’s story before playing Monteleone for the first time during the tour, in NYC.
- Most exciting non‐concert moment: Meeting my cousin David in Philadelphia, whom I had never met before.
- Notable shows, in chronological order: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver; The Pantages, Los Angeles (second night); Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee; Massey Hall, Toronto; United Palace Theatre, NYC; SECC, Glasgow; Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam (first night); Anfiteatro Camerini, Piazzola sul Brenta; Piazza Grande, Locarno; Festival Músicos en la Naturaleza, Hoyos del Espino.
- Best cuisine: Italian. French follows really close.
- Total cost: truth be told, I don’t really know. To be even more frank with you, I don’t give a rat’s ass.
- Would I do it all over again, had I known what it would involve? Absolutely yes.
- Will I do it again in the future?
It was still the chilly winds of April when I packed my travelling things and went with the swallows; now the swallows are all gone, each went to its own home, and I’ll be back at the fairgrounds, working away. I certainly Got Lucky, and I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity I had to fulfill such a dream.
All the best, folks; take good care of yourselves, and of each other.