First Day In America

By Nick Pentelow

"OK, put some fire under it chaps, it's eight-turdy! When I say get down here for eight-turdy, I mean eight-turdy!!" That was Bernie, Tour Manager, Wizzard American Tour, September 1974. "Have-shaving-bag-will-travel" (Just as long as he doesn't leave his suitcase at Detroit Airport). This world travelled Liverpudlian, living in London, living in America, and sounding like all three - was booked to guide us safely through the great American continent. From New York to Philadelphia, Denver to Phoenix and West to California, whisking us away, unscathed from the terrifying clutches of concert promoters, cow-pokes, and other suchlike people. Protecting us from the evils of the dance hall and depositing us safely at the hotel, where we tuck ourselves into bed with our Horlicks - until that gentle tap-tap on the bedroom door in the morning - "Get yerself downstairs, eight-turdy! Eight-turdy! Come on, yer late!!"

This was our first morning in America, I say morning, but in fact back home in England it was night-time. No wonder I was feeling tired! I remember it very clearly, I was sitting on my suitcase, yawning in the lobby of this Philadelphian hotel. I didn't quite make it for eight-thirty as Bernie had requested, due to a little malady called die-a-rear! However, after a suitable reprimand I was soon following the others outside into the vast American street and then climbing into the vast American car.

"OK, let's burn some rubber. Yeh ? OK!!" said Bernie as we screeched into the day. We arrived at the gig mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time for a sound-check. Our English roadies and the American roadies who worked the P.A. system we hired, seemed to be working well together and had most of the gear set up. All we had to do now was find the dressing room, dump our cases and get our instruments tuned up. We were all feeling a bit jaded by now, what with the long journey to the gig, and the jet-lag from the journey from England still hanging over us, our increasing anxiousness over our first American gig, which was looming up, was becoming apparent in all of us; How different are the American audiences to those in England? Will we play the best we've ever played? Will my sax-bug come unplugged? Will Mike Burney fall off stage? Will they like us????? A nice pint of bitter would go down nicely at a time like this. We were all hungry as well; we hadn't eaten since breakfast - those who got up for it, anyway! But there's no time for any of that now! Sound-check! I stole a can of American beer from our faithful roadie Pete Shepherd, I splattered it open and passed it round the lads as we climbed up onto the stage for our sound-check.

Now a Wizzard sound-check isn't really that simple. There are microphone adjustments to be made, the balancing of the microphones, the balancing of the monitoring system to suit each individual requirement, the repositioning of the speaker cabinets, and that's before we do any kind of 'trial' song to test the whole system. It could very well be the most boring part of a day's work standing around feeling tired, hungry and thirsty, while they test first the drums - every drum, cymbal and cow-bell has to be tapped, crashed and bonked - and there are two double drum kits don't forget. Next, the bass guitar, "move the cabinet away from Charlie a bit", now Roy can't hear it, "Put it back in the middle". Bob Brady's piano and synthesiser and clarinet; getting more hungry; Roy's guitar, spare guitar and mandolin; it seems ages ago since I opened that can of cool beer. Vocals now, first Roy, then Rick, then Bob. Who are those people over there in the corner?? "Saxes" - at last. Honk, Honk, Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-h... "Thank you, can you all try a number please!" shouts Pete from the mixer.

Now there's a conflab as to what number we are going to play, which is abruptly halted by Rick. (Cough!!) "Erm! There is a certain amount of hurry up involved" he says dryly.

As I peer into the murky auditorium I can now see that the small group of people which had gathered earlier has now augmented to the AUDIENCE! They're coming in! Gulp! 1-2-3-4 we’re in! "You can dance your Rock 'n' Roll ", sang Roy. "Hee-haw, Hee-haw," went the saxes.

The sound-check over we returned to the dressing room to prepare our stage clothes and discuss the oncoming show. The support band were almost ready to start, so that gave us two hours to eat, change our clothes and to tune our instruments up. That in itself takes nearly an hour.

Well, some preferred to stay in the dressing room and eat, but myself, Mike Burney, Charlie Grima, and the ever effervescent "Bubbly" Bob Brady decided to dine locally at a restaurant called the "Mexican Trilby" However, we were drawn by some strange magnetic force into the nearest bar - much to Charlie's disgust - where we feasted ourselves on juicy beef slices in gravy with fresh bread and side salad, and we drank long glassfuls of cool American beer. That's better! We were now fulfilled, fat and "ready to rock".

Back at the gig, the tension was mounting. Photographers flashing (taking photos). Reporters barging in. Strange girls. Strange boys. Don Arden, Wizzard's manager, was there. The support band was off now. We were changed and tuning up. The promoter came in and asked if we would be ready in five minutes. Burney was saying "Yeh, Yeh, Yeh! OK". Roy was saying "Don't panic! Don't panic! Don't panic!" And we were panicking.

This was it! The introduction tape went on, we queued up by the backstage stairs. The audience silenced as the lights dimmed. "Good luck lads" was the general sentiment whispered by the faces around us. The drummers crept on and perched on their drum stools, then Rick walked on followed by Mike and myself and Bob. There were a few appreciative roars from the audience that could see us in the dim light. I test my sax and make sure my bug isn't going to plop out halfway through the set. And on comes Roy. More roars. Roy plugs in his guitar.

"1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - " the real thing this time. The spotlights flash on. You can dance your rock 'n' roll" sang Roy.

After the first song, our first offering to an American audience we waited for those few seconds which seem like hours before the end of the song and the reaction of the audience. Clap, clap! Pitter, patter! Yes? No? Roar, Roar, Yes!! Splendid.

We breathed a sigh of relief, and Rick announced the next song. We all worked hard throughout the show and came out safely the other end. Although modesty prevails, not bad I'd say, not bad at all. We all trouped off breathless and dripping with sweat, and those of us that could find one, slumped into one of those tatty beer-stained armchairs that must be an international feature of dressing rooms.

OK! Get yer ass outa here! Encore, know what I mean, OK! OK!" Hello Bernie!

An encore! Splendid.

We dived on again and drained ourselves of every ounce of energy. We did two encores that night, and we were quite pleased with how everything went.

It took us another two hours before we were changed again. We put our instruments away first and then retired to our foot square spaces in the dressing room and dried off.

There is always a lot of talk after a gig; changes to be made with equipment, volume, mistakes, and all that kind of chatter, so I wasn't a bit surprised when Bernie came in and told us to put some fire under it because we've got to burn some rubber back to the hotel.

The journey back to the hotel was a relaxed one. Roy pulled a bottle of Johnny Walker from his shoulder bag, and we all ceremoniously passed it around like a peace pipe, taking well-deserved swigs and thinking about our first day in America.

 

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WIZZARD WATCHA' SOCIETY, 44 Parkside, Wimbledon, London, S. W. 19.