One of the interesting aspects of performing in a professional band is the variety of different gigs that we encounter. Every wedding, party or corporate event presents itself with new people to entertain at a variety of different venues - it could be playing in someones front room in their house, in a marquee, teepee or yurt in a field, a rural 16th Century Elizabethan Manor House or on the 29th floor of a contemporary office building in central London - we never quite know where we will be hired to play next and swing ourselves silly. With this in mind, you might imagine the exuberance that we felt when we were invited to play at a private party on Mahé Island, Seychelles. Instantly, the mind starts to envisage the quintessential snapshot of warm waves softly lapping onto white sands that stretch far off into the horizon. The generally colder climates of the UK almost make it seem like such tropical paradises are another world away. And at just over 5000 miles from Heathrow to The Seychelles, it almost felt like it was.
After parking our faithful band van at the airport, followed by a quick round of coffee and some breakfast we set off to the check-in gate carrying our hand luggage and a few of our instruments. As any musician that travels overseas with their instruments will tell you, it’s always a bit hit-and-miss as to whether they will be allowed to bring an instrument on board a plane or whether they have to resort to checking it into the cargo hold. Of course, for our sax player Nick this was no problem - by wisely leaving his big baritone sax at home and only taking his smaller tenor and alto instruments, it ensured that he could store them in the overhead locker and keep a watchful eye on them all the way to the destination. We had already checked with the organiser of the event that a suitable drum kit and PA system were being provided for us - quite fortunate as taking all of this onto a plane would be impossible. And so the only remaining instruments that we needed to bring was an electric guitar and electric bass. It’s these sort of mid-sized instruments that always create the 'will-they / won’t-they' debate in your mind as you approach the airport check-in desk with a slightly nervous smile. Being professional and polite, as we always are in this band, ensured that we were able to successfully carry them through every point in the airport, from check-in to security and we got as far as the final hurdle - the boarding gate to get on the plane. It was here that one airport "official", who was clearly having a particularly bad morning, flatly refused for us to take both on board and so we had no option but to wave both guitars goodbye. We placed them on the conveyer belt to be sent to the unknown depths of the plane cargo hold, only being slightly reassured that our strong Hiscox cases would at least give them the best possible chance of surviving the wrath of the over-exuberant baggage handlers. We were issued with barcoded tracking labels, so at least we could check their progress at each airport. Or so we were led to believe at the time...
Our half-way ‘hop’ across the globe was not a direct flight, in fact we had been booked on three flights to reach our gig as these were the only ones available - London to Paris, Paris to Dubai and finally Dubai to Seychelles. We boarded the British Airways plane bound for the quick stop over to Charles De Gaulle in Paris. Upon arrival at the airport we asked them to scan our instrument-tracking barcodes and indeed they confirmed that they were tagging along nicely in the belly of each plane and were being transferred from one plane to the next. Another quick coffee and it was time to board the next plane - a giant Emirates A380 to take us to Dubai. What a luxurious plane it was, even for standard class - comfy seats and a vast selection of films on-tap, it was nice to know that we were going to be well-catered for on this long-haul flight. And long-haul it most certainly was because before we even moved from the airport gate, the pilot announced that we were going to be delayed due to a faulty starter motor on engine two that needed to be replaced (slightly annoying but I guess it was better that they found the fault while we were still on the ground). We managed to watch two films before we had even moved an inch and after only four and a half hours (!) of sitting on the tarmac, we finally took to the skies - with the captain assuring us that he would make up for lost time by flying as fast as he could. Looking at our watches and working out the local time in Dubai, we were not convinced that flying at full-speed would help us make our third flight in time. Using the hideously over-priced, ten-minute-only connection to the on-board WiFi, we emailed the client to let them know that we were unsure if we would make our connecting flight but would of course keep them informed once we arrived in Dubai.
Even with our pilot 'flooring-it' all the way, we arrived at Dubai International under the cover of night and considerably late, resulting in missing our connecting flight by several hours. After being passed between several airport staff we located the correct Emirates desk and were told that we could be put on the next available flight, a full 24 hours later. This was no good because by that time, the gig on Mahé Island would have passed and we explained to them that we may as well turn around and fly back home. The member of staff took our passports and disappeared through an ominous door behind his desk and stayed there for some considerable time. Dubai airport by this time had become very quiet, being that is was now the middle of the night. All that remained was a 5 piece swing band stranded and yet still making silly jokes and laughing with each other, only to occasionally remind ourselves that we probably needed to look a little bit more serious if we were to try and convince the staff to pull some strings to get us on an earlier flight. The Emirates man finally emerged from behind the mystery door and said that he had managed to get us on an earlier flight in the morning, meaning that we would still make the gig in time, albeit somewhat later than planned. Clutching our airport food vouchers, we picked some seats to watch The Mighty Boosh on Nick's iPad and waited until the morning.
As the hot Dubai sun rose above the airport, we made our way to the check-in desk to collect our boarding passes and at this point we realised how the Emirates staff had managed to get us on an earlier flight - three out of the five band members were issued business class seats.
We would like to stress that we were all just glad that we could get an earlier flight - the three of us that had been given a higher grade of ticket were of course highly distraught that the other two guys were unable to join us. We were tearful when our air conditioned bus arrived to take us to the front of the plane and we almost burst into tears when we discovered that our seats onboard the plane only had 5 different massage modes with variable plus and minus intensity settings.
After countless hours of flying around the world, we arrived, somewhat weary but relieved that we had made it in time for the gig. All we needed to do first was to get our equally well-travelled guitar and bass from baggage claim. As the conveyor belt full of luggage slowly got emptied it became apparent after about 20 minutes that our instruments were not going to appear and so we went to the desk and got them to scan our barcodes once again only to reveal that they had only made it as far as Paris! They offered to have them forwarded on but as we were due to leave the next day, we told them that they needed to be sent back home again.
The original schedule had allowed us a bit of time at the hotel to relax before going to sound check but with the delayed flights we had to go straight from the airport to soundcheck and fortunately the organiser of the event had managed to locate a cheap guitar and bass that we could use for the gig. It was at soundcheck that our singer Mark suddenly realised that he had left his phone on the flight from Dubai to Seychelles but with a stroke of luck, a quick call of his number resulted in one of the cleaners on the plane answering it, having just heard it ringing in the pocket of the seat that was in front of him. She kindly said that she would leave it for him at the airport for him to collect the next day on our return flight. Phew!
The reason for this blog post is to show that despite all of the set backs that we had faced with getting to our gig, our experience and professionalism meant that no matter what was thrown at us, we knew how to keep calm, laugh it off and sort the problems out. Not once did any of us get annoyed with the situation and we just took it all in our stride. Even though we were tired from the countless hours of travelling, we still made sure that we put on an energetic show. Our enthusiasm continued even on our return journey which resulted in us flying from Seychelles to 'enjoy' a 7 hour stop-off at Nairobi airport in Kenya before flying back to Heathrow. But that's another story....