TAFFY AND THE VAN

Three years ago I spent Easter Sunday all alone in a hotel room in Liverpool. For those of you who are not from the UK: Easter turns UK cities into ghost towns. I couldn’t even go out for coffee, because even the Costa nearby was closed. We had no band rehearsals because all my band members were at their family’s houses, and Jerney hadn’t arrived from Holland yet. I had no option but to stay in my room, watch telly and have a chat with the girl at reception if I needed someone to talk to. So this year, I was actually really happy to have an Easter show with Dreaming of Kate, so that I wouldn’t have to stay home alone. 

After a couple of days in bed with a horrible flu, followed by even worse back pains, I was happy I could move and sing again. So by pick up time, backing vocalist Jerney, keyboard player Louis, me and my box of tissues were waiting patiently for the van and driver. Drummer Paul texted me the driver was late, and by the time the van pulled up, I instantly knew who our driver for the day was: Taffy. 

Taffy is somewhat of a legend in Holland, since he was the driver of The Smiths Indeed for their Holland tour last year, and both he and his van are quite a character.  I happen to know his reputation travelled fast and people at the next venue were informed beforehand about the eccentric driver and the van that kept breaking down and had a maximum speed of 40 miles (65 km) an hour. Driving 550 miles (900 km) at 45 miles an hour is a long drive to start with, but add to that numerous occasions when Taffy had to stop the van, open the bonnet and smash the engine with a hammer and you have yourself an excruciating drive. At every place they went to, Taffy always immediately asked for the nearest garage, either for oil or cigarettes (but usually both). 

We sat down in the back of the van, where five seats of different heights and sizes are randomly placed, where we could enjoy the gasoline fumes and the lack of windows. When we complained we couldn't look out the window, Paul, who was sitting in the front, suggested we imagined driving down a road very slowly. Luckily this time round, the van actually made it to 55 miles an hour (88 km/hour), so our journey from Liverpool to Bury Saint Edmunds only took 5.5 hours. We only had to pull up at the motorway once (I didn’t even see Taffy using a hammer this time), and we made one stop for services, where we witnessed Taffy running back and forth in his lizard/Jack Sparrow way three times because he had lost his cigarettes (that amazingly had been handed in at lost and found by someone). Paul told us we were overtaken by every single vehicle on the motorway, including a trailer with horses and a broken down van on the back of a Triple A trailer, so Paul suggested to call them to say our van broke down and be at the theatre quicker.

Obviously, we were at the venue late. Very, very late. We normally arrive between 2 and 3 pm, and even then preparation can be a bit frantic. This time, we were at the venue at 5:15, and show time was 7:30. Luckily, sound engineer Ben and lighting engineer Zak had arrived according to schedule, and had set up most of the stage by the time we arrived. Still, the drum kit had to be set up, we had to do a sound check, clear and prep the stage, set up the merch stand, iron all the costumes, set up a quick change area, do stretches and run through some of the dance routines on stage, do hair and make-up, and a million other little things. To make our lives even more complicated, the backstage area of The Apex is like a labyrinth in which the dressing rooms are as far away from the stage as possible. Jerney and I had about 20 minutes to eat something and do hair and make-up, so we found ourselves multitasking throughout the whole thing.

With a frantic run up to the show, things get easily overlooked. Which is a normal thing I guess, but as an artist you just hope the audience doesn’t notice. Only seconds before we went on stage, we were informed that Bens laptop was stolen a couple of days before, so we didn’t have our usual whale noises. No time to fix it, or to worry about it, just pray that the audience doesn’t notice we have a bit of a cold and blunt start, the band had to immediately start the song. I started singing, then after a couple of lines walked onto the stage. And there it was: my white trainers and my white socks on the black stage, at some point beautifully lit by Zak! I had to stay on the stage for the first three songs, trying to get through them with a dripping nose and a sore throat, trying not to stand too close to the trainers, hoping no one noticed and thinking of a way to get rid of them during the show. After “Strange phenomena”, I tried miming to assistant Claudia that there were shoes on the stage. She didn’t really understand what I was trying to tell her. I made her look through the curtain, but because the stage was all black, she didn’t see them. Trying to do the right thing, she walked on stage and came back with the black heels that were actually meant to be on the stage, because I wear them during “Wow”. I walked onto the stage with the double bass for Babooshka, and during the song I tried to think of a way to get rid of the trainers. I decided to take the double bass to that side of the stage at the end of the song and toss the trainers to the side where no one could see them. Mission accomplished!

After getting rid of the trainers, I had not much to worry about for the rest of the show, so I could focus on getting through all the songs and routines with a dripping nose. I know Ben switches off my mic for the audience when I’m changing costumes, which was very good, because I have been blowing my nose during several costume changes. I managed to add a surprise element in “Rubberband Girl”, being on the drum riser at the start of the song and nearly giving Paul a heart attack by doing so.

The crowd was lovely, and I could see many faces, because the audience was sitting quite close to the stage. I always love when I can look people straight in the eye (very mean to be singing things like “you never understood me” to people in the audience, I know…), and this was the type of venue where I could. I have spoken to quite a lot of people afterwards, and I’m still amazed by people’s response to the show. I try to remember as many fans as possible, but it’s starting to be difficult, especially since my adrenaline levels after a show are still sky rocketing. Two things I must mention though. First of all: The Apex has proper tickets, and I like signing them. They are quite rare these days, but I think they’re a nice token of a night out. Second of all: I was amazed by the fact that our biggest fans have seen our show 14 times already!

After load in, Paul returned to the van with a huge stack of sandwiches, because we suspected no take out would be open on Easter Sunday. We got back into the back of the van, while Taffy told us a joke we all didn’t understand. After repeating the last sentence, he added: “You think about that!” and then closed the door with the usual loud ‘bang’, as if we were in a horror movie and it was an actual threat. He resumed to driving, filling up his coffee cup with milk and with coffee from his thermos every half hour or so. Around 3 am, Ben called us to ask where we were and – more importantly - to tell us he was already in bed. 

We were home at 5. I considered calling Ben to tell him we were home, but suspected he would have been wise enough to switch his phone off after the call he’d made to us. I was too tired anyway, but the most important thing was: Taffy and his van had made it, and we were home at last!

Jerney, Liam (behind Jerney), Louis and Claudia in the back of Taffy's van

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