Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Belfast, The Hardboard Hotel, A Spider From Mars

I was on an airplane. I was in a rental car driving very fast. I was on a ferry crossing from Stranraer in Scotland to Belfast in Northern Ireland. I was in a hotel in Belfast - the Europa Hotel - the same hotel I stayed in the first time I came to Ireland back in 1978. 
The Europa Hotel is a four star dump, less salubrious than I remember from the first time I stayed in it though it's no longer surrounded by barbed wire. It was known during the troubles as the Hardboard Hotel because the windows were frequently blown out by bombings. It's on record as being the most bombed hotel in Europe having survived thirty six bombing attacks. I've been told there's an old commercial hotel somewhere in Belfast that suffered more bombings but the Europa Hotel is much more high profile so it carries away the glittering but dubious prize.
My room was on the sixth floor. It was small and over furnished - a desk, a round table, an office chair, a small armchair, a wardrobe and a double bed. A frosted glass door lead to a tiny bathroom with a toilet, shower and washbasin, and a collection of clammy white towels. The window looked out onto a grey wall and if I sat on the desk and looked across at an acute angle and downwards I could see the loading door of the Belfast Opera House.
I don't think this was the room the Clintons stayed in back in November 1995.
I played in a place called the Black box. I had no idea what it was going to be like but it was a pleasant surprise. Amy and I played there a few years ago. I had flu at the time and some of the audience were old timers who thought I was there to recreate 1978 for them. Some of them turned up again this time but I was on top of it, and anyway they were outnumbered.
My show was in the afternoon and afterwards Woody Woodmansey was doing an In Conversation thing. I felt a strange panic rising up. I wanted to get out before he arrived. He played the drums on some of my all time favourite records. 
I'm not much for meeting celebrities and musical heroes unless they know who I am and what I do and we can meet on an equal footing. Otherwise I'm just some nerdy bloke trying not to ask a load of dumb questions. 
I don't know why I worry about that, I've meet plenty of nerdy blokes who ask what they probably think are dumb questions and I love them for it. They're fans, they're into what I do, they're interested, they support me and help keep me going.
What I'm trying to say is I didn't want Woody Woodmansey to be an arsehole, and if he was I didn't want to find out about it. I thought it might be better if he remained intact, a concept, the last surviving Spider From Mars.
I didn't make it out in time. the promoter was suddenly at my side:
'Eric, I'd like to introduce you to Woody - Woody this is Eric...'
He was a perfectly approachable looking Yorkshire sort of bloke. We shook hands.
'Did you really live in Woodmansey?' I heard myself say, while some other version of me standing off to the side shouted YOU FUCKING TWAT! at me through cupped hands.
'Er, well, yeah, for a bit'
'I used to live in Hull' I offered, by way of an explanation.
'I know you did' he said.
We had a talk about Hull, who's left , what a special place it is. I stayed for his talk and it was absolutely riveting. I didn't join the queue to buy his book, I'll buy it and enjoy it when I get home rather than lug it around with me, fall asleep over it and forget where I'm up to. I know it's going to be good. 
I met him and his wife again outside, smoking cigarettes. I thanked him for the talk and we discussed the vagaries of touring. He wished me the very best of luck. They were nice people. 
I went back to the hotel and watched an episode of Last Tango In Halifax.