In tour with Point Blank
Photos: Yves Philippot – JN Sirot – Philippe Viguier
It’s late in this evening of Fête de la Musique. In fact, we are already the 22th of June and I’m about to go to bed when my email box receives a surprising message from Philippe Archambeau, RTJ’s editor : « Point Blank is looking for a driver for the tour around the 16th of July, are you free ? ». I answer him not to kid me like that, because even if I know a little the Point Blank members, and especially Rusty, I can’t imagine at that time to become their driver, as such a band doesn’t have to know that kind of problem. The tour overseer and/or the concert organizers ought to prepare all that stuff. But Philippe send me back a mail with an unequivocal message from Rusty. That's here that the destiny beckoned me : the incredible coincidence is that my holidays begin the 12th in the evening, and what will happen next will reveal that I have to travel from the 13th of July to pick the tour van at the château de Goncourt to be able to take care of the band ! The problem is that unlike a lot of french musicians playing southern rock, I don't live in the East, not in the least! Some signs work sometimes like they have to reveal a destiny, and my well-timed availability shall be a part of that stuff.
So I apply with Didier Céré, from the band the Bootleggers, That is in charge of the problem with Bernard Gille, the organizer of the future concert in Château Goncourt, and as soon as Rusty and Larry learn that I'm available, the band decides to promote me as driver/translator for the mini tour in France and Switzerland from the 14th to the 16th of July, as much as for the 17 in Château Goncourt. If someone told me that kind of thing thirty years ago, do you think I would believe it? An incredible chance like that, you have to catch it! It will probably never happen again in a life. And it would be difficult for me to explain later to Rusty, who always had such a great behavior with me that I didn't want to be helpful with him!
That why I find myself eating railroad tracks this wednesday 13th of July : first an uncomfortable and noisy TGV, then, after an underground transfer across Paris between Montparnasse and the « Gare de l'Est » (Eastern Station), a very comfortable TER (regional train) of the Marne Valley. At the station of Vitry-le-François, the excellent Bernard Gille, from the « Château de Goncourt » (Goncourt Castle), who gave an essential help for that tour, especially by supplying the van, was waiting for me, as expected: now it was time for the serious stuff.
Wednesday evening, after a very gastronomic and rather unusual party with Bernard, I take the van to go to my hotel from where I have to start my trip the following day to Basel (Switzerland). I have a good journey despite of the downside of an interminable and difficult crossing of the Thur valley, unavoidable way by the Bussang pass to join the Alsace plain. To pass the frontier gives me the opportunity to give 40 € (about 55$) road tax disc to the customs officers to be allowed to use the Swiss highways. But they were pretty obliging in addition, all the more so I talk with them in german, and I find myself on the road of the casino. Near the building, I catch sight of a familiar Texan silhouette. I leave the main road to drive closer to the main door of the hotel: yep, smoking his cigarette on the doorstep, that’s really B.A., the precious Point Blank road manager! I wind down the window to call him out and his face lights up. After a friendly reunion that sees all the band members coming little by little, I go parking the van in the hotel’s underground carpark and I back up in the hall to accomplish the necessary formalities to dispose of my room. That’s the occasion for Rusty and B.A. to state that I will be treated as a member of the band! My goodness! In fact, they are not kidding me: I dispose of an airy room with all the conveniences.
I install all my little stuff, then I join the band, and after the unavoidable formalities to be allowed to go into the casino, we head for the concert hall for the soundcheck, closed with an amazing swiftness. Great professionals, both the musicians and Paul « Pappy » Middleton, the sound engineer. I translate one or two sentences on the way when it’s necessary, I specify some points to the pleasant guy who has the lights in charge, I take some pics for RTJ... In short, everything seems to be fine when Rusty calls me: he’d like to have my opinion on the set-list! Incredible... But he has he good idea to start the show with « Freeman », a powerful tune with some tricky moments, proper to set the audience in the good mood. I learned this way that for Point Blank, the band’s members know sometimes only ten minutes before the gig the tunes they have to play and in which order! That’s not the case here, and B.A. takes over the set-list to copy it out in five other specimens.
For the dinner, I’m in front of Rusty and Johnny, and we enjoy an excellent meal... that we never had time to finish (!), because of a quick come back to our rooms to get ready. As I go back down again all the band’s members still passed the control and the people waiting for the gig begins to come in. The hall is quickly full of people coming from Switzerland as from France. Some « pure » Americans are clearly amongst them. I decide to live the gig in the best place for a musician: discreetly, just behind Paul working at the mixing table. The musicians appear on the stage and a real blast is to come! All revved up, the Point Blank’s members serve to an enthusiast audience a potion made to wake the dead! The titles follow one another, like pearls put on a thread. On the way, we notice Mick « Mouse » Mayes’ growing influence on stage, he even sings some solo parts, including those sung at that time by the late lamented Kim Davies. As regards intensity and mastery, we find us here at the level of the Bobino gig, in Paris, last October, that seriously set the record straight, sending back the other great southern rock bands to the rank of challengers. The audience wasn’t mistaken, giving the band such an enthusiastic welcome that after the two songs played in encore, Point Blank came back on stage for a « Nicole » that was not planned on the set-list that evening! Meanwhile, I remembered that I had to take some pics for RTJ, and I moved a little closer to the stage. It allowed me to tap Michel Levet (Mimi King and ex-Wanted), a local guitarist amongst the most passionate supporters of southern rock France, settled at the stage, just under Rusty Burns, on the shoulder. He believed it was impossible for him to see me anymore! The encore concluding and the musicians going out of the stage, supported by a won over audience, we take the most to have a good little chat, waiting for the traditional pics and inscriptions session in which the band takes part very simply and with a lot of goodwill. Those guys love their audience, we can see it clearly: being with their fans isn't an after show chore but the opportunity to prolong the pleasure of the show. Here again, I have to translate some sentences when someone calls me, I take part in the photo sessions in taking some pics, with the fans’ cameras and with mine as well. Two French fans retrieved Greg’s drumsticks, one for each, and they try to let them sign by the entire band. I wave to Mimi not to go to far from me: the evening isn’t over!
Some minutes later, we sit all together in the hotel’s lounge, conversing merrily and sipping some drinks (I personally drink water, but some have made other choices). Mimi is walking on air, sitting beside Johnny. Some French fans join us, and once again, I can see how our Texans are welcoming: they broaden the circle around the tables to let the newcomers take place! But the best moments have an end: we have to go across Switzerland tomorrow to go to Morzine, so after warm exchanges about the evening, everybody goes wisely to bed.
The morning after, I’m the first to arrive in the breakfast room: don’t forget that the musicians have a 7 hours jet-lag to digest. Shortly after, B.A. joins me, always on the go, then the other members of the band arrive and make the most of the opportunity of an « american breakfast », with pancakes swimming in the red sauce of the navy beans...
My first big problem will be the van’s loading: look at 9 people that size (I don’t disfigure the lot, unfortunately for my waist size), and you see that it takes some place, and the vehicle isn’t very long. So the boot does only offer a limited space, all the more so as I have to put Rusty and Mouse’s guitars, and Kirk’s bass inside. Very fortunately, some good wills help me (when I say to you that they are incredible!), and we succeed to lock all that stuff... but really very tight, three of us working with the tailgate!
After a false start, we are on the road. During the whole trip, the people will keep the same places in the van: beside me Greg and Rusty, Mouse, Larry et Kirk on the second rank and Paul, B.A., who is keeping an eye on everybody, and Johnny on the back seats. My route was prepared by myself : Basel, Bern, Fribourg... However, some Point Blank’s members asked me to take them down to Montreux, instead of just driving along the town to drive around the lake, to see the famous casino in flames in 1971 that gave off his smoke on the lake’s water, inspiring that way one of the most famous tunes in the rock history. Granted without any problem! We will make the detour and a little fifteen minutes break in Montreux to make some pics of a splendour! In fact, the break took a little more time, under a dazzling sun, but it was good for everybody.
As we arrive at the frontier post, a little phone call from Didier informs us that the people in Morzine are waiting for us with a mix of anxiety and impatience. Don’t worry, guys, we arrive! We have first to drive across Evian, then Thonon before going into a mountain road that leads to Morzine and to the bikers meeting. As I drive, I try to soften the effects of hundreds of bends that I have to negociate, avoiding to heurter (ou de se faire heurter par) les motos qui dansent la sarabande autour du van. Inside, fortunately, no one seems to be sick, et Greg goes on shooting the landscapes that we see from the van, as he makes from the start. Once we arrived in Morzine, the problem is to find the hotel, and to make one's way to the door through dozens of Harleys each more shiny than the other. We On descend, and B.A. and me meet in the hotel a very busy Philippe Manœuvre, a famous French rock programs presenter, who still remembers the first albums, when we tell him the name of the band.
At 3 pm, we arrive to the stage, a very big one set at the back of a vast square, and we meet Pascal, the warm stage manager. The little problems are quickly ironed out and the band carries out successfully an high-speed soundcheck. At 4 pm, all is in the bag, and we aren't late. Pascal relaxes and talk with Larry of a common friend. Emotion sequence, because the friend passed away since. The atmosphere was a little uneasy when we arrived but is now going back to a good shape, because the three tunes that the band played during the soundcheck reassured everybody : that's going to be fun this evening. We can go and eat under the bright sun of the Alps (Rusty, Mouse and Johnny take the opportunity ti decide of the set-list, with this time « Freeman » in encore) and to have a rest before the gig. As a rest, Greg and Kirk come to pick me at my room and we made a walk in Morzine to the summer sledge track, that allows us to take some pics of the landscape and of the streets full of bikes before to go back to the hotel. When the band decides to come back to the wings of the stage, Johnny Gallagher is going to play and his powerfull show won't be late to let the stage and backstage metallic structure shake. After an eclectic show, he finishes with a heartfelt... « Freebird ». The atmosphere is already in a southern feeling... Johnny Gallagher receives the congratulations of some members of Point Blank. We are all in the same hotel and he also is a picture of kindness. The day after, we'll make some pics all together in front of our van. As we go out of the dressing rooms at 11 pm to go on stage, the cold catches us. Nice weather plus altitude (1000 m) build an awesome combining, especially for the fingers. That explains that, although the show starts in a very good way, the band seems to be a bit less savage than the evening before, but the heat and the excitement of the big stage let it find quickly its cruising speed, I mean to make a blast as much as possible. That's crazy the musical intensity that those guys can develop. The huge sound level on stage (the musicians have ear plugs) put at risk the fold back sound system. All the needles are in the red ! Greg mixes it up with his drums, without restraint, without giving himself a shorter respite, but also without missing any break or any nuance : a real art that asks a damn good fitness ! And he's strongly supported by Kirk's five string bass that giving endlessly the beat. At the foot of the metallic structure, a frozen audience givees a triumphal reception to our Texans who give all what they can give with an incredible generosity, encouraged by the mass of humanity they have before the eyes. Once again a high level concert, with a very fit and twirling Mouse using as much as possible of the available space and absolutely imperial founder members, Rusty et Johnny. The last tune of the set, « Highway Star », comes charging along, but the crowd wants more, and will have two more tunes as encore, within a first-class « Freeman ». Going out of the stage, Johnny et Larry, exhausted but happy, have some difficulties to set a foot in front of the other, marked as much by an intense expenditure of physical energy as by the temperature difference with the afternoon. I bless the fact to have both a good sweat-shirt and my jacket. The faces are marked by the effort. Time to recover, all the more so the fans, turned into stalagmites at the scene, didn't hang around on the square, as testifies in a short phone call Mimi, who was coming in force with pals : fro-zen! No fan to meet this time just after the show. A good meal in a restaurant a bit further will put verybody on his feet in an atmosphere still as much relaxed and merry, especially after the grateful and enthusiastic speech of the agent, and still very welcoming to some fans taking refuge in the beginning at the bar, but who will soon show up for some flattering (deservedly!) appreciations and a little photo session to keep the souvenir.
Hardly in bed, it 's time to wake up : we have some miles to do to Château de Goncourt ! Then we are saturday, an important day for the coming and going of people in holiday. So we leave Morzine, with a comfortable room for manoeuvre. And we made well : we are kept around Nantua in a huge trafic jam from witch it's impossible to escape. The reason is the renovation of a mountain tunnel that we can't get round at that point of the road ! Frankly, in the middle of July, is it a well choosen moment ? Shortly, because of this unexpected delay (of course, the problem wasn't signposted in any place, and there was no diversion set...), we already are pushed for time ! That's the road hitches! Once we are out of this trap, we go quickly across Burgondy and Jura.
We are getting close from Chaumont, where I have planned a refueling when the printed page of my route, prepared by a very well known itinerary site tells me to take the highway A5. At the first highway crossing, we really have this choice, and I take the A5. Though, I'm not very quiet : we have to take the #24 exit and we have to cover a lot of miles to arrive à the first signposted exit, and it's only the #8 ! And we have to wait a very long time for the next one, #9. Yet I don't know exactly how much fuel the tank contains at that time, the gauge is to blame : it has a stupid liquid crystal display, with zones and not points, unable to inform the driver to within 2,5 gallons ! With Greg's help, I bury myself feverishly in the road Atlas that I had the caution to take with me (excellent idea, this one, especially when we're in lack of GPS), and I quickly see that the itinerary site send us stupidely on the wrong highway ! And we are moving away at high speed from our destination, bad luck ! I have to find a way to come back to Vitry-le-François and the Goncourt castle. While keeping to going (where are the rest areas?), Greg and I examine the maps with an uneasy eye. Of course, we are just between two differents maps, to ease the things, and we have to turn the pages like crazy people to cope, the whole thing while driving (sometimes Greg holds the wheel in my place when I look at the map after we have taken the caution to be sure that no one was in front of us before a good distance)!
A rest area approaches, I decide to stop here to make a point for good when the engine stops suddenly. We just run out of fuel ! With the atlas on the wheel, I didn't see the last liquid crystal switch off, and the tank is now really empty : no more fuel available, nothing ! Thanks to the momentum, I can park the van on the slip road : obviously, when the hard time begins... With Point Blank, it could be the hard way! If I was given the right direction, we would have got more than enough fuel to by-pass Chaumont, and then to find a pump! Now, where can we find this fuel? From some miles, it's a little like a desert. Our chance is that the rest area has also an exit that I possibly wanted to take to leave the highway, and that at a lower level we can see some barns and other farm buildings. If someone is here...
No time to loose: first I warn Bernard Gille at the Château de Goncourt of our bad luck, then I take my jacket with the encouragements of the band, showing here an exceptional mentality, and I run to the exit. I go down to the farm buildings in a jogging way and I am lucky this time: a few minutes later, it would be off! I did the right thing by running: just as I arrive in front of the door closing the access to the buildings, I see a tractor coming to me. The farm worker is going to leave the buildings to go working elsewhere. Some words and the farm worker kindly accepts to leave me at the next village as it’s his way. I climb behind him and the whole Point Blank crew perched on the slip road close to the van sees me leave the farm buildings from a distance, hanging at the back of the tractor! As I arrive in the village, that is called Robécourt, I catch a sight of an inhabitant, about 4O years old, mowing his grass and I ask my driver to stop me close to his garden.
For the second time in that day, I am lucky: I meet a particularly helpful villager who begins... to run out of fuel when putting in his lawnmower tractor! I take delight in helping him to push his vehicle in the garage, and this obliging, clever and nice man will take me across the country in his double cab 4X4 through pretty unconvincing country ways, but more direct than ordinary roads, to the next gas station, in a village set about ten miles further ! As Philippe Archambeau will later say to me, it's the Course Au Trésor (the « treasure hunt », a French adventure program) this story! Yes, but without the helicopters... At the gas station, I have again the luck to meet again someone very helpful who finds me the jerrycans, before to fill them, and after the payment we start again, this time in the slip road’s direction! During the way, my pleasant rescuer confirms that there is no fuel pump on the engines of the van’s make, and that we have to pray heaven that the engine has the good will to start again after insisting with the starter, but without flatting the battery... Shortly, if the van doesn’t start very quietly, we’re really stuck, and not in Lodi! Arrgh ! And he shows me the more direct way to St Dizier, unavoidable way to join the Goncourt castle.
Once I’m arrived at the toll booth thanks to his good care, I thank this nice inhabitant of Robécourt de son inestimable action. I hope that someone close to him, parent or friend, will read those lines and tell him about his very nice presence in this fantastic story. I join the van on the double carrying my two jerrycans, and I arrive completely out of breathe to free my Texans, who don’t speak French, from the clutches of a quiet cooperative highway patrol lady. Cheers and even an unexpected « Good job! » welcome me! As we are on the slip road, and not on the highway, we won’t get any fine. One of the many empty squeeze bottles is quickly cut to be used as funnel and I pour the five first liters (about 4/3 gal) in the tank. I take place at the wheel and try to start. Of course, nothing at the first try, that’s what I expected. Rusty, very cooperative, tries to explain to me that I have to pump with the accelerator. I take the time to explain that there's no need with a direct injection Diesel engine, then I make another unsuccessful but more encouraging try, : it quivers. At the third try, the engine starts again to my great relief to the band's cheering. I take the band on board and go to the toll booth, following the patrol lady's advises who is very anxious about our safety, then I pour the other five liters in the tank with Kirk's help on a little parking. Back in the van, I explain to Greg the way that we have to follow. The anxiety of my passengers, in view of the rural desert around us, is to full as soon as possible the tank, then to be in time or so in the Château.
We leave the highway, direction Graffigny and Bourmont. We find quickly some directions et we shoot off on a very straight road, pretty sure this time to have taken the right way. It was without counting the malice of the local Departmental Public Works Directorate ! Worried about not seing whether Graffigny or Bourmont coming, I inquire with Rusty et Greg, my navigators discussing without lifting their heads from.. the maps (we are still between two pages!) about knowing where I exactly am on my way. Of course, they are not able to do it, because they were debating about the following steps of the route instead of helping me to watch the road signs. At the first village, I take its name and I decide to stop to get a fix : how horrible, we are now due north in Sartes instead of taking due west to Bourmont ! We have missed a very little crossroads, with probably a road sign set only in a direction, as often, the « wrong » direction for us, of course! I make again an emergency road, forward it to Greg, who reveals that he can be a very good navigator. I turn back to try to take a makeshift route passing by St Blin, Rimaucourt and Joinville. I have the clear feeling that inside the faces look longer... But I don't hear a single word, nothing! Those guys decided to keep the faith in me, they had the time during my race for the fuel that I hadn't got a lot to do with the mistake in the route, and they don't reproach me anything ! Lordly !
On the other hand, they continue to be very helpful, like Rusty who points just in time in the outside rear view mirror the presence of a police car to me. Bad luck, it will follow us during a very long time, all the way to Rimaucourt, in addition on completely desert roads, preventing me to glean some precious minutes! What a misfortune ! And that could have finish worse, because between the luggage masking the visibillity behind the van, the road in front of me, the route, and Greg helping me as much as possible for him, all my attention was turned to elsewhere but the only place where I could catch a sight of our cop's vehicle carefully going in the blind spot : my right outside rear view mirror ! Thanks Rusty !
Rimaucourt : race to the gasoline station. We know, because we just had a bad experience in another village, that the credit cards of my friends don't work ! We have to find a pump with a cashier or a helpful native who would agree to get cash in return for using his own card ! In fact, the superette with a gasoline station sets a little out of our route, on the outskirts of the town, but the point we reach... And here, a miracle, a young man agrees to exchange 40€ cash (about 55$) for the use of his card for 40€ gasoil. Phew ! We also have to thank him for that ! If the country tends to become a desert, unfortunately, it seems that the people staying here are extremely helpful, and they would deserve a better economical support, but it's another debate. We leave Rimaucourt on the « right » road this time, in the direction of Joinville. Thanks to that quiet strange hike that was not planed, my Texan friends can watch a certain part of France, very rural and very exotic for them. Bernard get worried in the Château : I reassure him : we have fuel, I locate where I am, he knows the place, his anxiety decreases a good notch ! This breakdown on the highway between Chaumont and Contrexéville, for a band late because of a bad route, couldn't contribute to his serenity ! But Bernard has also exceptional human qualities, and he let me manage the situation without extra stress.
Finally, can you imagine that ? We arrived in time! OK, the soundcheck will be a bit short, but I already mentioned Point Blank's remarkable skilfulness and professionnalism in this exercice. Of course we shunt a little the happy hour but the warm welcome compensated, and as Larry told me, congratulating me (?!) : « We did it! ». For once we arrived, the Texans, probably relieved, will adopt again with me an incredibly gratifying attitude. Besides, it was probably the best thing to do because not only I tried to do my utmost to carry out my mission, but they had such a decent behaviour in this adventure that I'm now ready to be as helpful as possible for them all ! Gentlemen, really ! A great band served by people with a rare human quality and an irreproachable mind, I have to admit that it's not so common !
We just begin to eat when the first notes of Plug'n Play's gig ring. Rusty, who is interested and found out about this band in asking me some questions, prick up his ears. And already in the same time, without cause and effet, well I hope, the raindrops flying here and there without being mean turn into a vigorous shower! The evening will be wet, even very wet but some French musicians belonging to the two bands will make a dream come true in those difficult atmospheric conditions : to open for Point Blank !
I didn't see whether the end of Plug'n Play's gig, or the beginning of Calibre 12's one : I have to carry everyone from my little group to the hotel so that each musician can see his room, get ready and wear his stage costume. A small but surely welcome break for them in a much stressful day than expected. Back to the Château, Point Blank won't give the best gig of the tour (but we have to admit that the bar was set very high !) : after having given all the last day in Morzine, after having spent a tiring day in the van, and having felt the jet lag catch up, the edge is not so sharp anymore, but the band gave probably here its most remarkable performance. Under a driving rain that will soak some fans (including John Molet, Calibre 12's leader) and photographers, in a wet air that became cold in the end of the evening, the band will perform a really remarkable set in view of the conditions. Professional to the limit, and moved by a true passion, it performed once again with a fantastic generosity and played nevertheless great versions of its classics. Without willing it, Point Blank gave this evening a tremendous example to follow for all the present musicians, and as well to all the volunteers of Bernard Gille's organization. Hats off Messieurs!
And after the show and a short break to recover and take care of the gear, all the band's members came under the great tent to answer with a smile and a great kindness to the questions and expectations of the many wet but present fans. It will be possible for the flashes to pop and sizzle, for the records and tickets to be signed in a great availability and in a good cheerfulness between two glasses of the local « soupe » (soup, in fact a mix of local alcohols...). There was a need to warm up a little... When the talent compete at that level with the human quality, we just have to bow very low, and those who didn't know yet the band before going to see it in the Château went back won over and happy, without regretting the evening despite the really unfavorable meteorological conditions. As a result, also, the organizers are always ready to receive a band with such a level and such a quality, even by making some little sacrifices and inconveniencess, isn't it Bernard?
It's very late when I take back the artists to the hotel. They are exhausted but delighted with their evening, the contact with the fans and the warm welcome, so generous with the local liquid pick-me-up concocted and handed out by the organization... The windscreen wipers sweep the windscreen, the headlights stab the Champagne night, my feet let me feel a little that for me also the day was very long, but the three planed gigs achieved. That's not really the end of my mission : the sunday midday, I take the wheel again to carry my passengers to the great festive meal that Bernard and his volunteers organize at the Château, in a very friendly atmosphere, but it's another story. Bernard will take the job to bring Point Blank to the plane to Warsaw. It will be time for me to leave reflecting that it's such a pity that the Texas and the castle of Goncourt are so far from my home, because I've spent four exceptional days, from the wednesday evening to the sunday evening. Really, when we meet such a luck, and when we have all the things to catch it, it would be very very stupid not to do it !