23rd June 2001
This was no ordinary show as far as UFO are concerned... as you read this remember that this was to be the first show since I was present at the Manchester gig last year.. we could not expect them to bounce back as if nothing had happened.
This is what happened.. and any opinions I have included are against the backdrop of recent events.. if the show was straight after we had all seen the band perform some of the best gigs of their lives, then I'm sure I would be a lot more critical. As it is, the show must be held up against more recent performances, and seen for what it was.. testing the water once more...
First some background. The Rock and Blues is essentially a 'Custom Bike Show' organised by the Derbyshire Outlaws, and due to foot and mouth here in the UK the event was moved from both it's usual location and time of year to Donington Race Track in June (that's motor racing track, not horses), This is of course the same venue as the now defunct Monsters Of Rock. So try to imagine a big field, with an internationally recognised race track down one side (with the landmark Dunlop bridge next to the main arena), full of bikers, burger vans, and a half-dome stage. In addition, there were bands on stage both nights (Friday night was headlined by a re-formed Hawkwind), drag racing, custom bike competitions, strippers and wet t-shirt competitions. You all thought that the UFO tour last November was Spinal Tap!
Add to this the fact that most people will not have been coming to see Uli or UFO, and that of those who were, the expectation was of a Scorpions re-union (Rudi and Klaus pulling out quite late on in the organisation of the event) so you can imagine that there was really a lot of scope for everything going horribly wrong.
I arrived at the venue early afternoon in glorious sunshine, and most of the next few hours was spent catching up with various guys (and gal) from the UFO internet scene (Codger, Hobs, Mike, Andy, Matty, Lee, Alan.. it was quite a get together!), and flitting between back and front stage. To be honest, a lot of the musicians stayed away until late afternoon, and unless you were into bikes there wasn't really much to do. The boredom was broken by the occasional sound-checks (of which Ulis was by far the best) and a rather scary stunt plane show, but thoughts always drifted back to 'what's going to happen tonight?'. incidentally, kept bumping into Barry (Sparks) who looked particularly bored most of the afternoon.. but always very approachable.
The bands finally started about 5 o'clock, the first couple of which I'll quickly go through.
So, on to the build up for the finale.. There was quite a large group of us who had secured backstage passes (or in this case backstage wristbands, which I'd like to thank Carl for authorising.. you're a star!) and so the atmosphere was very jovial and relaxed. As backstages go though, this was a bit different... it was basically a large car park with porta-cabins dotted around, and a drinks tent... rather minimalist! The porcelain loos are definitely worth a mention though given the quality of those out front! But at this stage no sign of any of the UFO guys... which was somewhat expected but given recent events a little worrying!
Michael was the first to arrive... still sporting the bushy beard, shorts and vest of last year, but looking a lot healthier and fitter. The most obvious difference to last year however was that he was so much more relaxed and sociable. Usually backstage (over the past few years) he would be quite reclusive and retire to his dressing room but on this occasion he was keen to talk to people, wander around and take in the atmosphere (and a few beers). He even recognised me and came over to say 'Hi'! It was good to see him so obviously relaxed, happy and in a good frame of mind. I learnt later that the rehearsals had gone really well and Uli and Michael had been doing some great work together over the previous couple of days.
As the Wishbone Ash set finished there was still no sign of Phil or Pete, but it soon transpired that there had been a motor accident on the road leading to the race track and they would be delayed ("you weren't expecting a normal show were you?"). The next day I was told that the accident involved a motor-bike and car and that the cyclist and his passenger were both killed.. in fact the cyclist was one of the prize winners earlier in the day.. and my sincerest condolences go out to their families and friends.
Between sets there were apparently strippers and a wet t-shirt competition, but they also played a track from the forthcoming MSG album (the situation was much to Michaels amusement I think!). It sounded good, very much along the lines of The Unforgiven, but I was mainly listening to the vocals being the first chance I had to do so. I must say I was pleasantly surprised! As the next set neared we made our excuses and got back out in front of the stage.. which as it happened was remarkably easy. Guess it just went to prove how few people had come just for Uli/UFO.
Uli then began a long improvised intro for UFO to come on stage.... and we waited.. and waited... but no sign of the boys! From this point on the set list went out the window.. the crowd was beginning to get a little restless, and a few heckles were heard, but I later found out that Pete and Phil had arrived in time, Michael was ready, but the delay was due to the distance from dressing rooms to stage being underestimated, nothing more!