Level 42 - A Man Down?
Dec 6th, 1991
So. With Level 42 the rule was that you were free to do whatever you liked on a day off. Just so long as you were at the soundcheck the next day, on time and ready to go, then Mark was fine with that.
So of course, Gary Barnacle and I made full use of that relaxed approach by nipping back to London as often as we could to fit in a quick recording session whenever possible. At this time we were quite in demand as a horn section and so, irrespective of where we happened to be on the tour, if we could get to London and back within a day and a half, then we were more than happy to parachute in, add the brass to someone’s album and then fly back to rejoin the tour.
And so it was the case after the show in Odense in Denmark. The band bus had a long overnight drive down to catch the ferry to Kiel in Northern Germany where there was a day off before the show the following night.
Gary and I had been booked to record some tracks with a band called ‘Kissing the Pink’ at Peter Gabriel’s studio in Bath on the day off and so we stayed overnight in Odense, caught an early flight to London and headed straight to the studio from the airport.
I can still remember the almost parental insistence of Roger the tour manager as he explained to us before we left that, on the day of the next show “There is only one flight from London to Kiel. That’s it. One flight. If you miss it, you’re fucked (a technical touring term)”
“Yeah, yeah. Relax Roger” quipped Gary in matching teenage indifference. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry. Why would we miss it?”
I almost don’t need to write the rest of this story.....
The trip to London was uneventful and we had a lovely drive out to Real World studios, spent a pleasant day recording before heading home for a precious night in our own beds.
Next day I arrive at the airport, get myself checked in and settled with a coffee and a bacon sandwich and wait for the flight to be called. No sign of Gary at this point but nothing of concern there. Gary is perennially late for everything but is one of those people who somehow manage to pull it off and arrive just in time, as though there were nothing at all wrong. I mean, I’m not exactly known for punctuality myself but, whereas I’ve had the car turn up as I’m getting out of the bath, Gary has been known to have the car turn up as he’s getting IN the bath.
Anyway, I was still relatively unconcerned when they called the flight and there was still no sign of him. Even when I got on the plane and settled in my seat, I was still pretty sanguine about it. It was when I felt the plane push back from the gate that it suddenly hit me. I looked at the door and I looked at the empty seat beside me, then back at the door - and my immediate thought was,
“Shit. Mark’s going to go mental!”
The flight flew past (geddit?) in a mix of terror, amazement, shock, amusement and everything in between as I contemplated not only the prospect of doing that night’s show on my own but, more terrifying even than that (and that’s saying something), telling Mark.
The rule was very clear.
SO LONG AS YOU ARE AT THE SOUND CHECK ON TIME AND READY TO GO.........
I arrived at Kiel Airport, cleared customs and set about looking for Roger, who was picking us up. (me up)
“Ah, there you are Johnny” says Roger. “Did you have a good flight? We need to get cracking mate, because I’m parked a bit dodgily and I don’t want to get a ticket. Where’s Gary?”
“Rodge. He missed the flight”
“Yes. Very good. Where is he? C’Mon. We need to move it. I’ll be pissed off if I get a ticket”
“No. Rodge. It’s not a joke. He missed the flight.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Come on, we need to go”
I didn’t need to say it again though. I think he saw it in my eyes. Just as I saw it in his eyes when he realised it wasn’t a joke.
“Shit. Mark’s going to go mental!”
All the way back to the hotel Roger and I played a robust game of “Reasons-why—YOU-should-tell-Mark” but in my heart of hearts I knew it was going to have to be me.
We arrived at the Hotel and, once I’d checked in, I asked for Mr.King’s room number. And, as the condemned man, I headed up to break the bad news.
Mark went mental.
Now Mark is a fantastic bloke and actually, one of my favourite people in the world and he and I remain great friends to this day. But when he’s pissed off.......... Holy mother of christ. You batten down the hatches and wait for it to subside. Eventually the storm breaks and then you get the f*** out of there.
The journey to the sound check later that afternoon was a little tense, to say the least, with Mark reminding me to go through my address book for options for Gary’s replacement. However, I had more pressing things on my mind. The gig was hard enough with two of us. How was I going to get through it on my own?? What could I miss out? What about the Sax solos? Ooh look, a bird...(I have concentration issues)
As I pondered that particular conundrum, the bus pulled into the backstage area of the venue and everyone hustled to the door, keen to escape the oppressive atmosphere and get on with some serious gossiping. Suddenly Jakko held up his hand and said “Shh! Listen. What’s that?”
Drifting through the cold night air and seeping in through the cracks in the tension was the unmistakeable sound.....
.... of a saxophone!
“I don’t believe it”,I thought. “He’s done it again”
“This I’ve GOT to hear”
It turns out that on arriving at the airport AN HOUR LATE for the flight, Gary was told that the next available flight was in 1 hour but was going to Hannover, a good 250 miles and 3 hours drive from Kiel.
No matter that it would be a good 200 quid in a cab. His job was on the line.
So, having turned on the legendary Barnacle charm (more of this later) and convinced the girl (note: girl) at the desk to transfer his tickets at no extra cost, he got checked in and headed off to the gate.
Settling into his seat on the plane he was particularly pleased to find himself sitting next to a very pretty young lady who, having seen him put his sax in the overhead locker, was more than happy to chat to a handsome young musician. Inevitably, during the course of the flight the subject of music came up and the young lady asked Gary if he played with anyone she might have heard of.
Her chin hit the floor when he told her. “I don’t believe it” says she. “I’m going to see them”.
And so it was that, far from losing his gig and having to run the gauntlet of the King’s Wrath, Gary got to the venue an hour before us, did his mic check and then ate half the rider.
Him and his new best friend.......