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March 5, 2014

It can be strange. One moment you are still busy with the just started recording of the new Kayak project 'Cleopatra- The Crown of Isis', the next you are forced to study your ten strokes in the round to master the Camel repertoire somewhat to get.

I look back on two bizarre weeks. Monday morning, February 17, a cry for help came from England: the current Camel keyboardist Guy LeBlanc appeared to be struggling with his health in such a way that it proved impossible for him to do the European tour, which would start on March 2 in Paradiso in Amsterdam. If I wanted to replace it. And I understood that the consequences of a possible 'no' on my part for Camel would actually be almost incalculable.

In the minimal time I had to decide, it was actually not possible to estimate exactly what I started and what the consequences would be for myself. Two hours and fifteen minutes of new music were ready to study, and within five days I had to try to take the place of an extremely skilled keyboard player, with his own playing style, interpretation of the parts and keyboard set-up. And there were also recordings scheduled for Kayak / Cleopatra: two days of percussion that could not actually be canceled, because this would unacceptably delay the completion of the entire project. That meant that there were barely two days to rehearse with the whole band madness, actually. With Kayak we have been rehearsing for five days before a tour, and then the repertoire is already partly known and well prepared. What did I start with?

But I followed my heart, discussed with Irene and said yes. I could not drop them and however sad the reason was, I had always enjoyed previous tours with Camel, and playing with such a class band and one of the best guitarists in the world is of course great for a musician. Only, well, the preparation was a bit short, so to speak.

Andy Latimer sent me the audio of a live concert with Guy's parts on separate tracks, so I could roughly track what he was playing. I already knew I wouldn't be able to memorize everything in that short amount of time, so I went on reenacting and writing down what I heard. An i-Pad with the most important notes and chords on it should help me through the first concerts, so I knew what to play and on which keyboard I was supposed to do it with what sound. The disadvantage of using sheet music is that it is very difficult to get rid of it again. At some point you should know the repertoire by heart, but as long as that iPad is there, you will remain dependent on it. But not writing down was not an option, so you had to.

After a few days, I started to master the songs somewhat - that is, pretty much playing along with what I heard. That is quite different from actually playing independently in a band on a different keyboard set up than what you are used to. Guy played a significant part of his parts on a keyboard that I had no experience with myself (de Nord), but I thought it would be useful to use that instrument as a basis. Not without risk, because although I had heard a lot of good things about it, you should still become familiar with such a keyboard, and preferably you should have a 'click' with it - otherwise it will never work. As mentioned, two more Kayak drum days were planned, on February 24 and 26 in the SoundVision studio in Arnhem. So switch for a while. Our drummer Hans Eijkenaar managed to record no less than 23 songs in that short time (and then he was home in time for the evening meal, believe it or not). In the evening after the shooting, Irene and I went for a bite to eat, and it was an almost surreal situation. It was Wednesday evening, and Sunday was the first performance in Paradiso with a band I hadn't rehearsed with at all! And then I also had to go back and forth to England, which in my case takes a little longer than with people who just fly.

So on February 27 I left by train via the Channel Tunnel to London, where I was then picked up to continue to the rehearsal room, which was located on the grounds of Peter Gabriel's famous studios, The Real World. In the afternoon we could start. (Incidentally, highly recommended, the Eurostar. Departed from Amsterdam Schiphol at half past eight, at noon in London.) It was a warm reunion with most of the band members - only my fellow keyboardist Jason Hart I had never met before. At the time, there was not much time to catch up, but during the tour we would undoubtedly be able to catch up. It felt good. I hadn't seen Andy, Colin and Denis for about eleven years, but nevertheless it seemed like we had only said goodbye last week.

But otherwise it did take some getting used to. Apart from the many notes that I had tried to master in that short time, I also had some problems with the keyboard set up: I used two keyboards myself (the D70 and the Fantom G8 from Roland) but I had no idea how to program the Nord to my satisfaction. There was little opportunity to go through the manual quietly, and the pre-sets of Guy could not be used 1-2-3 due to my other playing style. So there was no love at first sight, let me put it this way. Meanwhile, the cold is completely out of the blue, but that took a while. Friday the 28th at half past one - we had just had lunch - suddenly the power went out. You don't think of it - if there was one thing we were absolutely not waiting for, it was a power cut. Almost four hours later the lights and amplifiers flipped back on and we were able to continue. The next day we only had until noon, because the equipment had to be packed for the ferry crossing. Nevertheless, there was no panic. The whole band had the feeling: this is going to be okay. The crew is also very professional, willing and friendly: there is a few hundred years of experience behind us.

The tour is done by sleeper coach. This means that the entire band + crew (currently 13 people) travels on the bus and sleeps there too. Although it is a spacious bus, there is not much privacy, that should be clear. You sleep in a cage where you can just turn around, and the aisle only has room for one person, who in most cases has to stoop to avoid head injuries. The antics that some (I don't name names) have to perform to get out of their cage result in very spectacular scenes. After the performance we drive to the next location. It is not always easy to fall asleep while the bus thunders through less well-paved roads, but you get used to everything and a good bottle of wine works wonders.

Once on the way to Dover it turned out that the electricity in the bus was not functioning properly. Two power cuts in two days, I liked it a lot. Especially the discovery that it was impossible to make tea during the ride was a cause for noticeable unrest among my English colleagues and friends. So we also took a small detour to a workshop where the problem was remedied. At noon we left from Dover to Calais, from there we continued to Amsterdam.

It is strange to wake up in the parking lot of Paradiso. It's strange to wake up on a tour like this anyway because you never know exactly where the route ends that morning. Sometimes it turns out to be a parking lot, but it is also possible that you open your hatch and look out on a wall or a sidewalk on a busy street. The bus is blinded, so it is not the case that Jan and everyone can look inside, but it remains a strange experience. The performance in Paradiso went (at least for me) above expectations. Very little really went wrong, and the audience immediately told us about the problems the band had faced. We are now two performances further. The next day in carnival-ridden Eindhoven and yesterday in Ghent, where Denis and I had a look at the Ghent Altarpiece in the afternoon in the St. Baafs Cathedral and went to eat a chicken tandoori in compensation in a tent across the street.

The band is getting better and better at each other. A few technical issues, which inevitably and always pop up, have been resolved, and I'm starting to appreciate my (well, Andy's) Nord more and more. Today, March 5, we are in a hotel near Stuttgart where we have to break a day because the concert is only tomorrow. So, time for a blog!


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