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Features

Cruel World festival- Mike’s memories

It’s getting a bit boring writing “It can’t get any better than this” all the time.

So let’s concentrate on the bad bits. 

The food on the plane wasn’t up to much. 

That’s it. So this is either going to be a very short article, or I’ll have to come back to that opening comment again.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Thursday

It’s 5.30am at Fenton Towers, and we are all in a somewhat surprisingly sprightly collective good mood ready for the 6.00am pick up by Eli, our 7-seater toting talkative taxi driver, now on her second Vapors airport taxi run. We pick up an equally surprisingly alert Steve and make good time all the way to Heathrow Airport. Guitars are checked in, bags are deposited, and we are left with plenty of time for the traditional airport English Breakfast Beer.

It may only be 8.00am in Terminal 3 but the bar is packed like it’s 10.00pm in Soho, so we gate-crash the only table space we can find which belongs to a guy on his own who we decide could benefit from our company. Fortunately, he is amenable, and after a quick British-style set of quickfire polite conversational cliches, it turns out that he is travelling to exactly the same place as us, where he is working for Echo and The Bunnymenas their monitor engineer. Furthermore, much to our ever so slight embarrassment, he reminds us that he was also the sound engineer for the gig at the Under The Bridge venue in London in 2021 played by some band called The Vapors. Thanks Ben! 

Fresh from that excitement, and also from Branka’s jackpot foray to Boots where she has acquired 10 (ten) sell-by-lunchtime sandwiches for just 50p each (you can take the girl out of Yorkshire, etc.) we head for the aeroplane.

11-hour flights are not fun, and this one is no exception, but the excitement of what is to follow gets us there. A 90-minute slog through the sprawling, occasionally snarling, and always snail-like Los Angeles traffic gives way to a considerably more pleasant cruise through the wide-open, enchanting and historic architecture of some of Pasadena’s more beautifully manicured residential areas, and suitably impressed by our new surroundings we arrive at our hotel. We all set our watches back 8 hours and routinely check that our phones have done so automatically. In the interest of professionalism, and by way of ensuring that the jet lag is shaken off well in advance of Saturday’s performance, I selflessly agree to help the band stay awake for a few more hours as wewhile away the sunny warm California evening, watch the sun go down behind the palm trees on the boulevard whilst the distant mountains dim to shadows, and quaffbeer outside at Lucky Baldwin’s pub, our second (or maybe third) adopted home for the weekend.

Friday

Friday arrives to find everyone well rested and feeling surprisingly well adjusted, and a day of wonderful reunions, hard work (for some), sightseeing (for others) and pre-festival PA appearances (for a few) follows. 

Reunion number 1 comes with the morning arrival of now long-time partner-in-crime, Split Squad (and indeed all-round) legend and occasional band member, the American Vapor Mike Giblin. Gibbo arrives from San Diego where he has hired a 7-seater and whisks the band off to a rehearsal studio that they’d pre-booked for a festival set run-through or three. Meanwhile, Sally the fearless hires a gleaming red Tesla to whisk the rest of us around for a whistlestop LA tour that takes in Griffiths Park and its Observatory (as in James Dean’s “Rebel Without a Cause”), the obligatory selfies in front of the Hollywood sign way up on the hillside, a trip down to the hotpot of humanity that is Venice Beach, and some more of that determinedly uncompromising, crawling LA traffic, whilst she accustoms herself to driving an electric vehicle for the first time in her life.

Reunion number 2 comes in the evening with the arrival of Rob Juarez, promoter for the weekend and the reason we’re all here, who seems delighted to greet the band for the first time since his 2019 “Lost 80s Live” tour. Larger than life, the guy mixes the no-nonsense bone-hard professionalism that is required when organising events like these at such a complex level with a genuine love for the band, and he exudes enthusiasm and respect as Dave presents him with a hand-written, signed and framed set of “Turning Japanese” lyrics that has made it safely from Worthing. Rob’s enthusiasm is borne of his childhood Vapors fandom which was engendered into him by his father, himself a big fan back in the (New Clear) day and it is clear to see. He is also not short of a sense of humour, having filled in the appropriate forms to arrange my own festival pass by ticking the box next to “Dancer” and as we meet in the car park in the Friday evening he asks me where the hell my tutu is. I’ll be working on that for next time then.

Rob whisks Dave and Steve off to a pre-festival event where Sirius XM’s Richard Blade is DJing, and the guys are introduced to the crowd and do the signing thing for the huge, enthusiastic, and grateful numbers of people. Some of us hit up Old Pasadena for a Mexican meal, where, as Dan and I stroll through the bar, my “Prisoners” T-shirt is spotted by a couple sat having a drink, immediately followed by a shrieked “Oh my God, it’s him!” as Dan is pointed out by one of the pair to the other. He hasn’t stopped going on about “That night Iwas recognised in a bar in LA” ever since. We all finish the night off fashionably early (within reason), in Steve and Dan’s room (obviously, tour rules apply worldwide),before the big day.

Saturday

So finally, after months of anticipation, we’re there. Rob and Gibbo whisk everyone to the Rose Bowl and we’re escorted to the artists’ compound area, where we are shown our trailer for the day, and begin to take in the enormity of what is taking shape. We walk around the area and look at all the names pinned to the trailers, some of us take a stroll around the yet to open arena and check out the stages, lean on the front of arena rail and watch Siouxsie sound check, and we pinch ourselves a few times. We’re introduced to Dennis(sound engineer for the day, who would have been doing the sound for Adam Ant had he not had to pull out), an eight-foot-tall laid back deep-voiced Californian bundle of relaxation with a story or two to tell (and whowould do the band proud on stage), and we take in the size of the rider, which is more like a well-stocked Hollywood bar than the usual Sainsburys delivery. This is not the Hull Adelphi or Brighton Patterns, that is for sure. The band lock themselves away for a final “unplugged” set run through and before we know it we are being transported in a provided vehicle to our backstage area.

Now, I’ve been extraordinarily privileged over the years when it comes to this band. From the guest list entries at the Marquee as a skint teenager (thanks again Steve 😀) to all the lifts, the many, many friendships formed(then and now), the post-gig celebrations, and that incredible backstage view of the gig in the Las Vegas heat with 10,000 people stretched out in front, I thought I’d seen it all. 

I hadn’t.

We clamber up the steps to the area behind the stage where Animotion are just finishing their set with “Obsession” (yes, I did remember it when I heard it) and gawp at what is laying around in prepared piles ready for quick transportation forward later on. We ease past Squeeze’s drum kit, sidle past Billy Idol’s on-stage amps, and politely place Dan and Dave’s guitar cases and bags tidily out of the way behind a small metal supporting pole so as not to get in anyone’s way. We are, after all, nothing if not a bunch of well-behaved Brits. We wait whilst butch Californians with menacing tattoos and occasionally slightly disturbing slogans on the back of their leather tops move stuff around and ready things up with clockwork efficiency. The irresistible peaks out front to see the size of the crowd prove to beboth daunting and exciting, and that’s just me, who hasno responsibility here other than to enjoy what is to follow. Rob does a great job keeping everyone calm and after an on-stage introduction, from that man Richard Blade again, it’s show-time.

The four complete set run throughs in the previous 24 hours prove their worth. As ever, when the band have reached (near) auto-pilot mode for a particular set, which always happens after a few complete plays, the show is not far short of perfection as the extra concentration brings that final level of polish. From the huge roar that greets their arrival on stage, to the equally large roar that greets the introduction of first song “Waiting for the Weekend”, right through to the inevitable, even bigger roar that greets the intro to set closer “Turning Japanese” the enormous crowd are onside to a person. Be they one of the committed fans that have packed the area immediately in front of the stage (who, Dan keenly reports, include Nancy and Shaun from Las Vegas, who’d given him his rock star moment the night before in that Mexican restaurant, and who are once again shrieking his name in admiration as he walks on), one of the thousands packed around just behind those people who are all equally as absorbed, or even one of the many stretched out on picnic rugs a quarter of a mile away foot-tapping along, there doesn’t seem to be anyone within earshot of the stage who isn’t engaged with the band.

As “Waiting for the Weekend” comes to a close, I decide it is time for a walk, because I want to see just how big the crowd is, and it just isn’t possible to see to the back from where we are. I wander round the front and stand in the “Clubhouse” area directly in front of the stage asthe band launch into “Jimmie Jones” (cue another huge roar) and “Daylight Titans”. My gaze alternates between the stage and the enormous high-definition screens on either side where forty-foot Dave exudes cool and confidence, forty-foot Steve stands stoically exuding even more bass-touting cool, and forty-foot Dan runs up and down a bit and appears as a Hollywood-sized version of his usual blurred bundle of extraordinarily accomplished guitar playing, rock-star posturing and plain showing off (Love ya Dan 😀). Unfortunately we only get to see half of Forty-foot Michael due to the camera placements on the stage, but some would argue that he starts from a slightly larger-than-live perspective anyway, so fair’s fair I suppose.

I head out towards the back of the arena, eventually exiting the vast VIP area, past some more thousands of people, in and out of a sand trap (the stage is set up on the golf course immediately outside of the main Rose Bowl stadium), up a short hill, down another short hill, and still I am surrounded by eyes (and ears) focused solely on the stage area in what is now the far distance. Forty-foot Steve has shrunk to about twenty feet, but the sound is still impeccable as he introduces “Trains” (you know the story), and “Bunkers” which comes with a quip about its appropriateness for a gig being played on a golf course. I move further round to the other side, and crowd into a spot back up the small hill with a perfect vantage point to see miniature Dan and bigger Dan (x2) on the screens, leaping around during “Together”, a song which, encouragingly, given the fact that it seems unlikely that an enormous amount of the audience would have been familiar with it beforehand, goes down with as big a cheer at the end of it as any other song thus far had done. 

Realising that it is going to take a little while to get back, I begin retracing my steps during “News At Ten” and return backstage for the closing half of “Letter From Hiro” and the triumphant finale of “Turning Japanese” which, given the enormity of the crowd and the sheer atmosphere it generates feels like a song massively refreshed here.

And that’s that. Hugely celebratory waves goodbye follow, and then some even more cheery whoops of approval, and off the band come. We are told that the estimate of numbers actually watching the band is put at about 35,000. That’s about the number of people that turn up to watch Chelsea every week, but this lot have had something to get excited about. It is a truly incredible, spine-tingling and how-the-hell-did-this-happen moment. 

The amount of adrenaline flowing immediately after the show is, unsurprisingly, proportionate to the crowd size. Nothing during the previous 45 minutes had been short of perfect. The band’s performance, the impeccably balanced sound that Dennis had provided and that had carried so well over that vast arena’s speaker configuration, the 25 plus degrees sunshine, the crowd and their enthusiasm had blended together to cook up a very, very special feeling that will live with this lucky observer for ever.

We are whisked back to the artists’ area where we determinedly set about reducing the trailer’s high volume of liquid content and generally just chill in the sunshine for a bit. The mood is, unsurprisingly, celebratory as we set about planning our activities for the rest of the day. Some of the others get whisked off again by Rob in more festival transport to see Gang of Four (playing on the same stage that we had just vacated), whilst the rest of us relax some more (with further trailer liquid content reduction responsibilities being carried out) and catch the distant sounds of “At Home He’s a Tourist” drifting our way in the wind. These are closely followed by some distant Poison Arrows that fly our general direction from ABC, before the more local sets of speakers attached to the main stage overtake our eardrums as Gary Numan starts his performance. Squeeze had been added to the bill with 24 hours’ notice after Adam Ant had pulled out, so Branka and mewander off to see their (also) near perfect, although sadly Difford-free performance via a few Numan songs,before heading back via some Bunnymen action.

Having somehow never got to see Iggy Pop, I am not going to let this opportunity pass, so along with Steve, Dan and Sally I head for the main stage, where I am not disappointed. In fact I am open mouthed in amazementtrying to take in the whole 20 minutes or so of 76-year-old energy that unfolds in front of me, and that makesme feel slightly breathless trying to keep up with, before the abrupt, unexpected, and for a minute or two, quite scary end to the evening. During a couple of Iggy’sprevious songs, the front of house PA had temporarily cut out, and up to the right, seemingly away in the mountains but in reality perhaps a little closer than that, I had seen a couple of forks of very spectacular, sky-illuminating, orangey-red lightning crashing earthwards. This hadn’t been entirely unexpected as some forecasts earlier in the day had warned of a small possibility of storms hitting the area, however the speed of what happened next is. 

As Iggy finishes “The Passenger” a man with a message edges towards him. Iggy growls “We have lightning, we have to leave”, and he is duly off. “Please evacuate the arena” flash the signs on the big screens and we head for the exit. There is a slight scramble to get out of the area we are in which for a moment feels like it could turn difficult if the barriers aren’t moved, but once we’vesqueezed out of that we are back to the artists’ area in no time where the trailer is being frantically emptied of equipment and plundered for any remaining liquidcontent. We are rounded up and escorted to our vehicles in double quick time and are back at the hotel in 20 minutes.

The evacuation operation is managed so incredibly well from our perspective but cannot have been a lot of fun for the 70,000 or so who have to file out, presumably for hours afterwards, and presumably in a very frustratedfashion, especially given that the storm eventually passes harmlessly by without hitting the area at all. But with hindsight, I think we all feel that it’s a case of better safe than sorry as we contemplate what could have happened had the power not been cut and the storm moved our way.

Sunday

The rest of the evening drifted past in fairly inevitable fashion, in the hotel room of the Obvious Two, and at some point we all sloped off to bed. Sunday was a day of late rising, sore heads and scratching around wondering whether to summon up the effort to go downstairs and sit by the pool, until it became known that the festival had scheduled a “make-up” set for that evening where Iggy would play his set again, hopefully to the end this time, and Siouxsie would get to play an extended version of what she’d missed out on the night before. They’d be joined by Gary Numan opening up for them and repeating his Saturday set, and suddenly a Sunday evening gig seemed like a good idea. Dave and myself decided that a stroll down to the pub felt like an even better idea, Sally was off to Vegas to spend some time with friends, so that left Branka, Steve and Dan to head back to the Rose Bowl whilst I had a chilledevening with Dave back at Lucky Baldwin’s pub. I would have loved to have seen Iggy again, but a quiet evening was, with reflection, a great way to relax after the bedlam of the previous evening. Needless to say, however, I will be at Iggy’s Crystal Palace show in July.

Monday

And that was that really. A few more beers with Steve and Dan courtesy of Lucky Baldwin himself the following afternoon came and went, and it was taxi to the airport time, quick and easy check-ins, and back to London where, unlike the depressing post-Vegas morning in 2019 the sun appeared to be shining and the temperature was not too ridiculously English.

It really, really cannot get any better than this. Oh, damn.

Mike Philpott, May ‘23

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