Prior to joining Thunder, I did many different tours in various locations throughout the world, the most bizarre of which has to be a 1993 tour with Samantha Fox, which took me to Estonia, Russia and Lebanon.
Think of Sam what you will, but I very quickly found her to be totally professional, unfazed and intent on putting on the best possible show under any circumstances – which was just as well, considering what we were about to undertake.
The first show of the tour was a festival in Tallinn, Estonia, which was very well run and very well attended. All went smoothly. ~
The flight wasn’t without incident – it was a chartered plane, ex-air force, still retaining the Perspex bubble at the front from which the bombs would be aimed, with strips of canvas and wire showing through the tires where they had worn. Inside, I was alarmed to see a box next to the window with a sign saying ‘Escape Rope’. Still can’t imagine what use that would be.
The plane was so overloaded with equipment that there were people standing on takeoff and landing, holding down flightcases and guitars. During the flight, I was asked if I wanted to go upfront to see the pilots. I poked my head into the cabin to find that John Tonks, the drummer in the band and a very dear friend of mine, was sat at the controls, grinning hugely. We arrived early morning, very dishevelled and bleary-eyed, to be greeted on the tarmac by a tv news crew, complete with cameras and lights. John whispered jokingly in Sam’s ear as they approached: “You know what this town used to be called before they renamed it Ishevsk? Chernobyl!” Her exclamation echoed around the airfield.
We were driven through the forest to the closest thing to a hotel they could manage – the Hilton it wasn’t.
We did two shows in Ishevsk, the first indoors to the local dignitaries and local mafia. It was obvious that there had never been anything like us there before – they were doing ballroom dancing while we were playing.
The second show was an outdoor festival to 27,000 people, and there seemed to be almost as many outside the gates. As I recall, it went very well.
After the show, in search of a party, John and I ended up in a car with a number of Russians, being driven deep into the woods. After about half an hour we arrived at a house only to be told by the one English-speaking person there “This isn’t a good place to be – there are gangsters here.” We took no notice and proceeded to partake of the local vodka. When we decided it was time to leave, we were walking towards the car when we were confronted by three large men, who offered us “drugs for Samantha Fox” (to be spoken in a heavy Russian accent). Quick-thinking John immediately and politely declined, and we got into the car, only to be surrounded by a crowd of people shouting at us. Two girls that were also in the car were dragged out, and I clearly remember John saying “I hope you’re good in a fight, or you can run fast, because I think we’re in trouble” Of course, neither of those applied to me, and I was feeling a long way from home. Eventually, our English-speaking friend calmed the situation enough for the driver to leave, and we got back to our ‘hotel’ without further mishap. Afterwards we were informed that we almost fell foul of a setup that had caught a few bands in Russia – being given drugs and then subsequently being busted by the local police, and then released after a hefty fine – cash, of course.
The next step of the tour took us to Beirut via Damascus airport in Syria. As we landed I was alarmed to see tanks dug in around the runway. We made our way through to the baggage reclaim area, and we might as well have just landed from Mars, the looks we were being given. All the local women were covered from head to foot, with only their eyes visible through the little letter-box, and of course Sam and the other girls on the tour were wearing shorts and skimpy tops. It caused a bit of a stir, as you can imagine.
The drive from Damascus down to Beirut through the Bekaa Valley was long, hot and uncomfortable – the checkpoints at the border took forever, with police in Hawaiian shirts and big guns wandering around the bus.
When we finally got around to doing the first show, it was an outdoor gig, but seated. The Lebanese idea of stage security consisted of twenty armed soldiers sitting on the front of the stage, with others dotted strategically around, including two standing either side of the drum kit. As we came on stage, the audience jumped to their feet and rushed to the front, only to be told by the soldiers to sit down. This happened several times until Sam tired of the game and left the stage, after announcing to the audience “We’ll come back on when they let you stand up”. The organisers complied, and the rest of the gig went without incident, except for Sam’s bodyguard Lloyd having a wrestling match with a guy at the front with a camera, who had exceeded the ‘three song’ rule (no photos to be taken after the third song). Lloyd finally emerged triumphantly holding the camera above his head. We found out later that it belonged to the Chief of Police….
We travelled in a convoy of a stretch limo and minibus, escorted by a jeep with four soldiers and a police motorbike, lights flashing and sirens on wherever we went, whether it was to a gig, or down to the local restaurant. There were checkpoints manned by Syrian soldiers with machine guns every few miles – travelling anywhere was a stressful event. During our stay, the Israelis started shelling southern Lebanon, and from our hotel on the hills above Beirut I could see right across the city. One day I spotted a huge pall of smoke hanging above where I assumed the airport to be – I began to despair of getting home in one piece. We all suffered from sickness and diarrhoea whilst we were there, so a lot of the time was spent moaning in bed watching CNN for hours on end.
The final show in Beirut was outdoors, and the guys on our crew were concerned the pa might not be big enough, so they went to the hire company and took everything they had in the warehouse – it ended up looking like a Pink Floyd gig from the seventies.
The final show in Damascus was in a basketball court – us playing on the seats on one side, the audience on the seats on the other, nobody actually in between on the court. Bizarre. When we eventually left from Beirut airport I’ve never been so pleased to get airborne.
It really was an experience – a very intense two weeks. It was hard at the time to take in all that was happening, there were too many guns, too many Lebanese men of undetermined sexuality (all the guys in the band had long hair at the time and attracted many whistles and comments from male admirers – our driver told me I had a lovely body – I told him he needed to get out more often) but it was a trip that I’m really glad that I took. Don’t know if I’d do it again, though….