“What I Did On My Trip To Elfia Arcen”
by Niilo Sirola / Greenrose Faire
It’s now one week until Elfia Haarzuilens and it’s time to start putting my gear together, figuring out what to fit in the restricted amount of baggage I can take on the plane, let alone what clothing to pack. Instead, I find myself browsing the photos from Elfia Arcen last September and going through my notes and memories, as I seem to have promised to write a travel journal from the artist’s point of view for CeltCast. So what better way to prepare for what will surely be one more weekend to remember…
I’ll leave the description of the wonderful atmosphere, the sights, sounds and costumes to others, and instead try to give a glimpse into an ordinary – yet extraordinary – day in musician’s life.
After a trying night (there is no cell coverage within the rooms either so one has to go into the lobby to get some), we are up at 7 AM to catch a quick breakfast before heading to the castle grounds. As we are the first band of the day, we are allowed a proper sound check first thing in the morning before the gates officially open, so we’re in a hurry to make the most out of it.
We get in through the side gate and back way to the backstage area, which is somewhat bigger and better organised than what we’re used to. The stage manager Steef takes us in his office for a quick run-down of the day’s schedule. Then we have the main stage to ourselves for a while. It turns out not to be quite as large as in the specifications because the sides are taken up by the massive stacks of loudspeakers hidden behind curtains with big steam-punk machinery painter on, complete with ambient machine noises and a puff of smoke now and then. Just as well, and even if there’s lots of room on the stage, I like to set up at about similar distances as we have at our practice room. I have a theory about that involving the speed of sound across the mutual distances (but let’s leave it to another time).
As ordered, there is a drum kit for us, but it is in a box, disassembled to the last nut and bolt, so Tomi has some quality time putting it back together. Pete and Tomi set their respective shops up on risers that can be wheeled on and off the stage as whole, so that certainly speeds the entrances and exists. After plugging in about the three hundred required cables and making sure everything is plugged where it ought to, it’s nice to have time for a proper sound check, that is to play bit of different songs and make sure everyone hears themselves and the others in right proportions, and that everything sounds good on the stage monitors.
I’m still mystified how the sound of my bouzouki seems to acquire an unpleasant klang after going through the PA, and how it’s possible that it is different sort of ringing each time, so there’s a bit of fiddling with knobs and levers to tame that out for the day’s needs. While sound check is essential to getting the sound we like and to being comfortable on the stage, this is probably not very entertaining to watch so we are glad to be able to do this before the gates opened and the people are in. This time at least on the stage everything ended up sounding brilliant, and we finish about 10 minutes past the opening of the gates but well in time to get off the stage before the official program began. Then it’s fingers crossed that each cable and knob and fader stays about at the same place until it’s time for us to start our show…
There is a couple of hours of spare time which goes by quickly while strolling around looking at things, and shopping for a spare shirt I could use on stage. Tomi found a flashy buckle for his cloak and had the merchant sew it on for the same price. As more and more people are strolling through the grounds in most elaborate fantasy and sci-fi costumes, it is very strange to feel even under-dressed in my stage clothes. Usually it’s the other way around. The day’s weather is turning out to be a bit damp and the ground muddy and my pointy shoes don’t appear to be exactly waterproof, so I’m happy to know I have a change of shoes in the back.
Wandering back to the backstage area through a well-hidden crack in the surrounding fence (and trying not to wake up the dog who lay sleeping across the opening), I find that our first set is to be a full hour long instead of the 45 minutes we have prepared for, so Tomi and Salla are at work revising the song list. It was of course already carefully clocked to exactly 45 minutes, down to the detail of shortening the intros of some songs here and there, but never mind about that.
We have the use of a booth next to the stage for selling our CDs from one hour before our show to one hour after it, so it has to be set up as well. We had dedicated only one piece of luggage for merchandise, so it is a bit reduced selection today, and of course lot less decoration than what we’d like. I notice there’s a bit of language confusion if I greet people with “Hi” because they think I said “Hoi” in Dutch and the next few lines after that involve negotiation on the language in which to conduct the rest of the conversation. Pauli is setting up one of his cameras on a stand to video the wide shot of the gig and gave me a GoPro camera to set somewhere on the stage. I set up a separate recording device for audio next to the camera. I like to record as many of the gigs as I remember, and even most of our rehearsals.
Finally, the time comes to jump on the stage for our first gig. Our usual 2-minute intro tape has marks for us to enter the stage just at the right time so that there isn’t too much standing around and fiddling before the first song starts. However, our coordination with the announcer wasn’t too clear, so he announces us on the stage before the intro rolls, so of course we have to walk in and then stand around for the duration of the intro tape. At about this point I remember that I’ve forgotten all about the GoPro. Also right from the start there is some strange constant feedback on stage that wasn’t there during the sound check and I try to convey this fact to the monitor mixer by pantomime with my head and eyes. On top of that, there’s the little fact that I’m still on antibiotics riding down a pneumonia so I have to push my act up to about 110% to compensate. I end up playing the full intro for The Tavern that was supposed to be shortened. But at least the rain lets down a bit and the sun even makes an appearance during the gig. Also, there is remarkable amount of photographers pointing their tubes our way through the whole show.
After the last song and the customary quick bow to the audience, I turn back to find my pedals and all have disappeared from the stage. The breakdown of our set-up is really efficient by the stage crew, and for once I feel I’m just in the way. After rediscovering my gear behind the stage and a quick pow-wow agreeing to use the shorter version of the intro tape for the rest of the shows, it is again a couple of hours’ break before the second show of the day.
…to be continued tomorrow…