Tony Malaby: sax, Drew Gress: bass and Scott McLemore: drums
I had forgotten how much work it is to get a tour like this together. The preparation work started in late December by preparing and mailing packages to prospective corporate sponsors. We got some positive responses right away – minor amounts though, but the day Drew called and needed to find out if we were going for sure I heard from Islandsbanki who was to become our biggest sponsor. So it worked out at the last minute. The week before the trip I managed to book 3 master classes which made a big difference. Then I started receiving faxes and phone calls at 6 in the morning. That's when I decided that I needed a phone on which I could turn off the ringer.
During all this I was frantically trying to get my new CD together. I got together with the designer and managed to find a manufacturer who could finish the job in time. The CDs arrived the day we went to the airport. I packed 140 of them. Tony met us at our house and we took a car to JFK. Drew & his wife, Brooke, who was joining us, were already there. We checked in without a problem and I was happy about not having to pay for the oversized bass case.
We had just gotten comfortable at the bar with some Heinekens when the check-in person came looking for Drew. Security couldn't scan the case and needed him to open it up. Some time later he returned pretty upset. Not only did he have to open the case for them but after they had told him everything was fine and he was on his way back to the gate an Icelandair employee came running after him to charge him $130 for oversize.
It was time to board the plane and we headed to the gate. Surprisingly there was no one at the gate and it didn't even have the flight number on it. After a while I got suspicious and went to check the monitor. Turned out we had the wrong gate number on our boarding passes. We went to the right gate but Drew was now missing. We waited for a while until we were asked to please get on the plane. Scott was about to go look for him in the bathrooms when he appeared having already boarded the plane.
I was too hyper to sleep plus I had gotten used to the schedule of sleeping from 2-9am. We approached KEF about 1 am NY time (6am Iceland time) and the pilot announced that the weather was really bad and we might have to go to Glasgow. "oh what a great beginning of my tour" I thought. Fortunately the weather improved a little for a minute so we managed to land in Iceland.
We caught the bus to Reykjavík, which usually takes about 40 minutes but this time it took about an hour and half. The wind was incredible strong and repeatedly blew open the roof windows on the bus making it hard for the driver to steer so we had to pull over numerous times to close them.
We went to my parents' house and had some breakfast. I checked on our next flight, which was supposed to be at 2pm but was now postponed 'til further notice. It was about 11 am and this meant no naptime for me. I spoke with the two promoters in the north, not expecting to fly at all that day. That meant that I would have to pay for the band's tickets the following day. I had to keep watching for announcements from the airlines and at 2:25 they posted that the flight was on for 3:15pm. Panic! Get everybody up, pack and call a taxi. We needed a big car for all our stuff. The car finally arrived at 3pm. I called the airport and asked them to wait for us and we arrived 3 min before take off. Close call
The flight was smooth and the weather in Isafjörður just great. Snow was covering everything but it was still and the sun was shining. We were performing at a college festival that celebrates the year's first sight of the sun. The town is surrounded by mountains so one doesn’t actually see the sun rise above until March. Greipur greeted us at the airport w/ two cars. They had given up hope so they weren't quite prepared for our arrival. He didn't have the keys to all of our rooms (we stayed in the dorms) and the heat wasn't on. I turned the heat on, asked for towels and we headed to the concert hall for set up. After a quick set up with no drum stool, the guys went to the bakery and I to a radio interview. An hour later we went back to the venue and still no drum stool! We sound checked. The room was incredible live and better suited for classical music than jazz. Greipur came back for us around 6 and we went to the dorms for dinner.
It was self-serve in the kitchen. Mashed potatoes, spaghetti w/ketchup and hot dogs. Band was not happy! Food tasted fine but a strange combination to the Americans.
The gig started at 8:30pm and fortunately the drum stool had arrived. It was a pretty good gig. We had about 30 people which is not bad for a small town.
Everybody was hungry after the gig so we walked over to a nearby pizza place for some great jalapeno pizza and Thule (fine Icelandic Beer). Everybody was happy (yeah). . . until the bill came. We had to cough up $50 a person which they thought was a lot for beer and pizza. Well, beer ain't cheap in Iceland. I had now been awake for 39 hours and time for me to go to bed. In a small town everybody walks everywhere so we trudged through the snow back to the dorms and I wished I had better shoes on.
All of us except Tony went with Greipur the next morning on a sight seeing tour. We drove into a tunnel and halfway through, it divided into two tunnels going to one town each. The towns used to be snowed in and totally isolated all winter before they built the tunnel. We took the tunnel to Önundarfjörður, and stopped in Flateyri. We had a strange combination of food for lunch at the school according to the guys but I thought it was pretty good. Greipur had a hard time hooking up a second car to take us to the airport and everybody seemed kind of worried since our plane was scheduled to leave in about 15 minutes. We ran into the principal of the school outside who of course offered to give us a lift.
When we approached the airport Greipur pointed at an itsy-bitsy plane landing and said "hey, there is your plane". Real funny I thought. When we walked in to airport with the bass and saw the look on the check-in person's face I realized that he was serious. The plane was too small to possibly fit the bass. And we had even left the flight case behind in Reykjavik. According to my knowledge this was the only plane flying to our destination, Akureyri. Much to my relief there was a second plane, a bit bigger, arriving an hour later to pick up a ski team. The ski team was already there so we switched and everything worked out.
We were greeted at the airport by the two promoters, Jón & Hjalti. It was a beautiful day and Akureyri looked gorgeous all covered in snow. We had an hour to set up before our clinic at Verkmenntaskolinn. Only a few people showed up for the clinic.
Hjalti took us to dinner and surprised everybody by ordering fish gills. . . a delicacy according to him. Dinner was great and we had enough time to shower before the concert. Hjalti had to take us in two trips to the concert venue and when we got there Scott realized that he had left his keys at the guesthouse so we couldn't unlock the bag with the CDs. Hjalti kindly made the third trip to get the keys.
The gig went very well. We had about 100 people. Gugga, a friend of mine from high school came and offered to drive us to our next gig the following day in a town maybe a little over an hour away. I cancelled the rental car without a problem. After the concert we all went to Karolina's to chill and have some beer. The beer was on the house much to the guys' relief after our "beer spending" in Isafjörður. I hit Tony right between the eyes with some rolled up paper. I found it incredibly funny and bursted out laughing. It was just what I needed after all the stress and lack of sleep. We walked back to the guesthouse and I fell flat on my ass on the ice. No bones broken – just my pride bruised.
The next morning Scott realized that he had left his sticks at the venue so again we had to call Hjalti for help. The drive was nice. We got to Husavík around 3pm and drove to the other end of town in search for a place to eat, saw Óli who went to school with Gugga and I, what a small world. . .excuse me, country. . . he recommended a place and met us for lunch. At some point, probably because the restaurant was on the water, the subject turned to fish. It was then that Tony rolled up his pant leg and showed us the scar that was given to him by a Baracuda in Texas. Hmm? We later found out that was a whale of a tale.
We were playing in an elementary school and the principal had arranged for on of the students to bring cymbal stands. I guess there was some misunderstanding 'cause he showed up with his cymbal bag, didn't say a word, threw them on the floor and left. By the time I realized what had happened he was gone. We found one useable stand in the school. The drum set looked really challenging and Scott made do with bass drum, hi-hat, snare and one cymbal. The gig was good, about 30 people. The school invited us to dinner at the hotel afterwards and then we drove back to Akureyri.
We went to the airport the next morning. Tony and Scott were still not quite accustomed to the idea of showing up to the airport 10 min before the flight, so expecting to have to wait a while for boarding they bought coffee and doughnuts just as they announced the boarding. Scott spilled his coffee all over when bending down to pick up his cymbals. The take-off was incredibly rough and a good thing that most of the coffee was on the floor of airport building and not in Scott's cup. We could feel the wind just grabbing the plane and throwing it around. I heard Drew's wife, Brooke who is super sensitive to motion, scream and thought for sure that she was going to throw up. This was of course the only day she didn't take her Dramamine but she managed.
We landed in Reykjavík in some heavy winds and cold weather around 11 am. Got two taxis and headed home for lunch. Had mom's terrific lobster soup and smoked & marinated salmon. I was happy to be able to change shoes since mine had been wet for the last 3 days from all the snow in the north. We did a clinic at 2pm that went really well and found a student to lend us drums for the evening's concert. He was proud to tell us that Jim Black plays his drums when ever he was in town. We went to the venue, a second floor of a café, to set up and realized the bass amp was no good. Tony ordered beer for the guys thinking it was on the house and then the manager followed him upstairs wondering why he didn't pay for it. It was quite an ackward moment but the manager was understanding and decided to make an exception and give us the drinks free of charge. The weather was getting worse and the guys were wondering if we'd have to cancel the gig. I told them that a bit of a snow storm wasn't going to keep anyone home. We went home and I made some calls to borrow a different bass amp.
When we started playing I couldn't hear the piano. Scott and Tony said it was really loud on their side so we unplugged that speaker but I still couldn't really hear myself. We had a good crowd but the sound affected how I felt about my playing and the piano was out of tune so I wasn't happy. I promised to always sound check from then on. We discussed the sound after the gig and decided to turn the drums and set up a little different the following night. We went to grab hot dogs but the place was closed so we went home. I really wanted to go to sleep but didn't want to be the party-pooper so we brought out the bottle of Black Death we had bought at the duty free store, ate the left-over salmon and started trading stories.
I slept 'til noon. Everybody, except Tony, went downtown to grab a sandwich. We walked over to the town lake so Drew could do some bird watching. It was incredibly cold and windy. I took Drew and Brooke home and Scott and I drove to a different part of town to pick up a second car for our out of town clinic that day. Then back home to get everybody, stopped at the venue for the bass and off we were to Keflavík. As soon as we got out of town the weather got real bad. The wind was blowing the snow over the road and it was hard to see. I slowed down but kept going. When it cleared up I'd drive faster but Scott who was driving the other car w/Drew didn't speed up and I eventually lost him. When we got close to Keflavík I pulled over to wait for Scott. He eventually showed up but didn't see me and passed me by. I had to chase him since he had just passed our exit. I called the school and got directions for a different exit and we finally found the place but were 30 minutes late. The weather was fine in Keflavík and they had no idea about a snow storm. When we got to the school Scott started yelling at me in the parking lot. Drew and he were scared shitless, freaking out 'cause they had almost crashed into me. I had no idea. They thought I had risked their lives and should have turned around and cancelled the clinic. I tried to explain that this is pretty common weather here but should have taken into account that Scott is not accustomed to driving in snow. We went inside and realized that we were playing for very very young kids. We weren't quite prepared for that but decided that I would do all the talking and we'd keep it real simple.
We drove back to Reykjavík after the clinic and the atmosphere was weird. I felt like everybody was upset at me and I felt so disappointed 'cause I had worked really hard to book this and was just running out of steam.
We barely had time to have dinner before heading back to the club above the café. The sound was still weird and the gig was a struggle for me. The place was packed both nights and the crowd was good but I felt like these were our worst gigs so far. That was probably just my perception because the piano sound was strange where I was sitting.
The guys went back to New York the following day and I stayed in Iceland. I was totally exhausted, not just from the hectic schedule and the stress of this 5 day tour but also from the intensity of organizing it. After the tour I made a list of things to keep in mind for next tour. One was not to start out by not getting any sleep.