The new album 'A Long Road Home' by Steve Somers
The new album 'A Long Road Home' by Steve Somers
Patty and I had been booked to sing behind Ronnie Prophet the singing compere for all three days, as we had just done a TV series with him. We were also booked to sing behind Johnny Tilotson and a few others. We were really thrilled at being involved in such a massive Country Festival full of the biggest stars in the business. It was being held on an Airfield in Portsmouth with a stage and sound system the size of a block of flats.
We had taken the caravan down along with my wife Pat and our first born, Ben, who was about 4 years old as I recall. We were going to stay on site for all three days and mingle with the stars. We first smelt a rat when we arrived at the perimeter fence and saw, written in felt tip pen on the back of a old Kelloggs Cornflakes box, "Country Music Festival this weekend with Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell" That was the advertising ??? We are in trouble here. 50 odd people came...I don't mean the people were odd!! You know what I mean. The festival was set up for thousands.
Brilliantly, all the acts went on and played to the few that were stood about trying to make a festival vibe and Pat and Ben wandered about trying to understand what was going on. We were in the back stage area when Johnny Cash swept in in his Limo in full convict outfit. The look on his face went from..'Yes it's really ME !' to......'Where the F**?! is the crowd'. Hank Williams Drifting Cowboys played for Ben and Pat. Patty and I got up and sang behind Johnny Tilotson ( hit single Poetry in Motion), Ronnie Prophet and a couple of others who thought they might like a little extra support (as there was rapidly becoming more on stage than in the audience). I looked out at the sound engineers' tower that seemed miles away and as tall as Big Ben and thought how strange life can be sometimes. We had our own personal performance by the stars, some of whom we toured with later and recalled the Portsmouth festival.
By day two things were desperate and the big boss could not be found. 'The management had left the building.' There was a ticket office on site with a few poor lowly employees. They had taken the cash from the few that had turned up and it was these poor souls that faced a certain (crazy in the first place) very angry country music star (I'm not going to tell you his name but it's on the poster) when he pulled a gun and took all the cash they had collected as 'PART' payment for his contribution to this fiasco. Nobody else got paid and we went home with nothing but a story in our pockets.
As a member of the old Settlers pop/folk group in the 70’s, I would travel to the Gulf States quite a lot (once every two or three months) to entertain British guys working out there in some of the more remote parts of the Gulf. We flew out to Bahrain, played the Bahrain Hilton, The Intercontinental Hotel, the British Club and then fly on down stopping of at various points down to Muscat in Oman. It was on one trip to Bahrain that we met the chief of the flying section Bahrain police. A British guy, ex RAF and old school. Big moustache and bluster, I’m sure you have got a mental picture by now. He was a lovely guy, but slightly bonkers. We met him at a gig and he loved us, thought we were the cats whiskers ! During a conversion over an illicit Vimto after the show (yes you can, but you needed to know where to go !) , I happened to mention that I liked photography and shot in black and white. This was in the days when I carried endless rolls of film and developed it all myself in a darkroom at home. Anyway, our flying friend suggested that he ‘Took me up’ tomorrow and showed me Bahrain Island from the air. I was very excited and the next day I arrived at Bahrain airport with camera and bag of lenses and many rolls of film ready for an adventure. The helicopter police worked out of a small area of the airport. The helicopter was a two seater with...NO DOORS !!! I tried hard not to show the absolute horror that was building inside, because he was such a nice guy and was obviously putting himself out for me. We strapped in tight with full harness belts and took off and do you know, he could handle that bird like it was a part of him. We dipped and climbed, left and right and we’re soon high over Bahrain with a view to die for ( perhaps a bad use of language). I soon began to relax and was leaning out of the door, or where the door should have been, taking pictures. We were laughing and joking and flying along a straight road and he said to me, “Would you like to see how we catch our criminals in Bahrain ?” Of course I would, camera at the ready. We went high and he spotted a lorry with three guys and four goats in the open back, speeding along the straight road. He told me, “we climb high and swoop in on the bad guys , like this........!” With that he flings the screaming helicopter into a frantic dive and comes up, at goodness knows what speed, at nearly. GROUND LEVEL to this lorry . The occupants of the lorry are shouting and diving for cover, the goats are trying to jump of the speeding lorry, it was absolute chaos ! We all survived the antics of my new friend ‘Biggles’ and had a great morning flying around taking pictures. Now to the real point to this story, we were heading back to the airport, when something seemed wrong. I could tell because Biggles went quiet and this worried me. We seemed to wobble a bit more than I had become used to over the past two hours ? Then he started to struggle very slightly with the controls and said, “I think we should get this baby home “. Which worried the underwear off me ! We seemed to turn sideways a bit more often than I, as a non pilot, thought was normal. We got high high over Bahrain airport and Biggles said “don’t be alarmed if we spin a little bit !” .....GULP !!! I can honestly say I have never before seen such skill in a tricky situation. I found out afterwards that a small rubber grommet had perished and jammed up the rear rotor , the spinning fan thingy that keeps the helicopter straight On the back. He turned the back end into the wind and we came down slowly spinning in a strange crab like fashion smack bang in the middle of Bahrain airport runway With just a little bounce. Concorde was sitting ready to take off and had to wait while we got out, jacked the wheels down, lifted up the back end and unceremoniously pushed the helicopter out of the way so Concord could take off.
When I worked for the BBC I was asked by Radio 4 to go and record the bells at a certain church in rural Cambridgeshire. It had to be those bells, as all bells have their own voice. The only time I could do this was on a Tuesday evening when the ringers would practice. It was a winters day and when I arrived the light was starting to go. To get the best stereo recording of said bells , I placed two microphones out in the graveyard either side of the bell tower on very long cables and set up the mixer and recorder inside the church. All went swimmingly well and the ringers left. The church warden was due to come and lockup in 30 minutes giving me time to pack up. I wrapped up inside first and went outside to collect the mics. It was pitch black outside, there were no street lights in this part of the tiny village. I was for some weird reason, a bit spooked in the graveyard, in the darkness. I found the first microphone on it’s tall stand and thought I’m not hanging around out here, so I picked it up and started to walk back to the safety of the church when to my horror, I heard somebody coming towards me from behind !! I stopped and the ghostly advance stopped as well. I turned trying to summon up all the courage I could !! There was nobody there . Properly scared now, I picked up the mic and ran for the church and to my absolute horror I was pursued at an increased rate. I made it into the sanctuary of the church in a real state only to realise I had been dragging the long microphone cable through the leaves and gravel in the graveyard!!! The power of the mind eh !! Ok.. yes I’m an idiot !