I guess the story of this very special weekend starts with Steve Rothery, Mr. So & So and I playing some Marillion tunes together at The Peel in Kingston-Upon-Thames in early 2012. Maybe it starts with Steve suggesting that I come and sing them a year before that, whilst I was still in a wheelchair, recovering from my motorcycle accident. Perhaps it starts with the two Web Scandinavia shows that Misplaced Neighbourhood played at John Dee in 2008/9, with Marillion upstairs and Rothers in the audience. Of course, Steve had already come along after the first Less Is More show and played Sugar Mice with us. Or is it with Gordie Fleming putting his hand on my shoulder as I left the 2005 convention hall and calling me back across to speak to Ludo and Orjan about depping for Petter? Directly it began with an interview that Ludo (Geir Amundsen - sorry, we very rarely call him anything other than Ludo!) did with Rothers for Norway Rock magazine. Shortly afterwards, Steve got back in touch to ask if we'd be interested in having him come and play some older Marillion tracks with us in December 2012, in conjunction with him displaying and selling some Postcards From The Road photos, giving a guitar clinic and so on.
We tried to organise it for the December but various scheduling issues arose with people and venues, so we settled upon Friday, January 11th at Gamla - our spiritual home - with the guitar clinic and an acoustic performance the following day. Always with an eye on the main chance, I asked Terje Embla if we could work out a way to bring my main, original material band, Also Eden over as well and it looked like that might well work if we could keep the costs as low as possible (yeah, right, keep costs down in Norway, I know!). The stage was set...
Behind the scenes, I met up briefly with Steve after Marillion's Wolverhampton show and I know that Orjan (aka Visitor) spent a lot of time discussing things in great detail with him via e-mail. He'd played a few tracks in a similar arrangement with the German tribute, Seasons End in December and Vissi and Steve were planning how they could best utilise two guitarists on stage. Also Eden, meanwhile, were in the throes of line-up changes and neither our outgoing bassist nor keyboard player were interested in joining in with the fun, however much I told them about the incredible time that I've had, over the best part of a decade, during my trips over to Norway and how brilliant the audience has always been. Their loss! It did give us a bit of a dilemma though, so we went through our setlist and came up with an hour of material that would be as simple as possible for a keyboard player to learn and then enlisted the incredibly brave Jani to deputise for us. The bassist? We auditioned him in the first week of 2013! I might possibly also have suggested to Mr Rothery a certain cover that we might play together and somehow managed not to tell anyone other than the band and Terje...
We're called Misplaced Neighbourhood for a very good reason: it took about as long, the Wednesday before the gig, for Sarah and I to leave Wales, cross England to Gatwick, fly to Gardermoen and take the bus in to Ludo's place near Oslo's Munch Museum as it did for the rest of the band to drive from Stavanger and Trondheim the next day. We'd decided that the confines of our usual rehearsal spot in the Oslo Jewish Museum were probably a bit cramped for a session with "god", so had hired a rather more salubrious location, still within walking distance of Ludo's - and of the hotel into which the other members of Also Eden were booked. Of course they hadn't actually arrived yet, and neither had Steve, so in the meantime we got on with running through a few numbers. Rothers was first on the scene. I'd been stood right in front of his amp at The Peel a year before and didn't make that mistake again, particularly as he was now using his more typical setup of one cab for clean and one for crunchy!
The tracks went well and it was at Steve's suggestion that we added the obligatory "Confuse-A-Crowd", tacking Grendel's Return (which we'd never before played) on to the end of Fugazi. He also fancied a go at Garden Party which, as one of the planned encores, would also be an ideal addition to the five tracks that we'd previously agreed. As a musician, I have to say that I took as much pleasure from being in a rehearsal room with Rothers for a couple of hours, running through songs that he co-wrote, as I have from standing on stage with him singing them to an audience. Does that sound strange, particularly to those who don't have the same experience of the creative process? No matter, time was ticking on, the rest of Also Eden had safely arrived (albeit with some baggage surcharges!) and we had less than an hour left to rehearse an hour's worth of material... Eek!
Compared with some previous trips where multiple gigs have made the schedule a tad hectic, this one was relatively relaxed from a Misplaced point of view. Of course, aside from Sarah, who is now getting quite used to Oslo, I had three musicians along for the ride this time, none of whom had ever been in Norway before. Whilst I can walk around quite happily without a map - indeed the other "Neighbours" say I know my way around Oslo better than they do - guitarist Si Rogers, drummer Lee Nicholas and new bassist Graham Lane were in need of assistance, the latter not least with his rather heavy bass case (which I'd advised him he wouldn't need!). They had a triple room in the hotel and two of them were regretting this, due to the other (Lee) having a bit of a loud snore. They'd also already discovered the shocking price of beer and nicknamed Graham, "Grandma", as he's a bit of a ditherer...
Bearing in mind our very special guest, we were also playing quite early for Norway, so soundcheck was planned for late afternoon. Octo (Jan Egil Overkil) was really pleased to be back behind his own kit, also having his headset mic with him for backing vocals, but unfortunately there were problems with the first two Roland JC120s that had been sourced for Steve - the speaker cones are often shot as they're routinely used by keyboard players with their nasty, square waves - but the third one was just the right side of usable, Rothers and I sharing a knowing glance at someone else's description of it as "fine". It was lovely to see Emil, the Gamla sound engineer again and when it finally came time to soundcheck with Also Eden everything was already well set up. I asked Rothers whether I should bother playing acoustic on the surprise cover that we'd just rehearsed with him and he said he thought it added to it; as a "vocalist who plays a bit of guitar", I was quite chuffed with that...
I feel so at home in Oslo, I was about to write that we had a pre-gig meal with my parents - but that was back in April 2012 for the "Return Of Rich" gig! Nope, this time we greeted the steady stream of friends old and new filling up Gamla; we'd obviously done a good job of convincing people to arrive early for the support band and so Also Eden feat. Jan Magne Bjelland took to the stage. It was somewhat nerve-wracking for Si, Lee and I to play to such a large audience with two new members but it went really well, with no major faux pas and in the blink of an eye it was already time to invite our special guest up for his first visit to the stage. I will never forget the sight of a couple of hundred people all simultaneously shifting their stance and gazing stage right to where Steve now stood. Now, I might have been involved in technically better versions of Comfortably Numb - which Mr. So&So and I had intended doing with Rothers at The Peel the previous year but hadn't had time, due to a snowstorm - but, as we'd rehearsed, Si took the first solo and, as Steve began the second, looking out into the audience was akin to the famous, "Web Scandinavia, it's masturbation time" moment from my debut Gamla gig, when we gave Blind Curve its first Misplaced outing. And, for the whole of that solo (Si and he were going to share it but once he started Si had no intention of taking over, citing it as his all-time favourite musical experience), I stood on the opposite side of the stage, strumming along, in heaven...
Vocals & Rhythm Guitar - Rich Harding
Guitar & Backing Vocals - Si Rogers
Keys - Jan Magne Bjelland
Bass - Graham Lane
Drums - Lee Nicholas
* Guitar - Steve Rothery
Can't dwell on that though, there's a gig to do! A quick change, a few chats, a snatched hello to Sarah selling CDs and it was time to do it all again, as the strains of La Gazza Ladra rang out. This is going to be a really interesting setlist. As discussed months before, we've planned for Rothers to play all of the originally arranged tracks in the middle of the set, to allow the audience to get fully in to the swing of things, as they dutifully do with Slainte, Script and He Knows ("With the dead, with the dead!"). A slight change of pace for Runaway, in my Marillion top five and a track that I love singing, partly because it's one of the most difficult; h can be a very technical singer. Relaxing into the surprisingly complex early verses has a new dimension added, with one of the originators standing at the side of the stage waiting to join in. As I sing, I recall Orjan's reaction when we stood in the wings before the encores at John Dee in June 2008, as Terje came to tell us that Steve had been out front singing along to pretty much the entire show...
So here we are, the main event, rapturous applause that Rothers acknowledges as he takes his place, stage right and we, appropriately enough, enter drunken romantic territory. It's great to stand there at the front, projecting the end section vocals of Cinderella Search as the main man solos. Even better that it's followed with another of my Marillion top ten, Incubus and, for the first time ever that I know about, two guitars playing the solo in harmony. The drum riser at Gamla is perfect perching height for a vocalist who loves to sit and listen to the rest of the band do its thing - I just have to remember to get back up to sing! For those of you who remember the pre-"Mr Blinky" days when every Marillion live track used to speed up twenty beats per minute, I can assure you it wasn't down to Mr Rothery. He's even more stubborn than I am and will drag a song back to the right tempo by the scruff of its neck if it threatens to run away, which the start of Chelsea Monday is apt to do - I had commented in the rehearsal room that "It is pretty much impossible to start this track too slow". The most anxious moment of the night arrives a little later as we come frighteningly close to screwing up the ending of the track but just about recover it. This band may only meet once or twice a year but we still manage to be a band, crucial at moments like that; the musos amongst you will understand what I mean. A hugely enjoyable version of Fugazi is followed by the unexpected - for the audience, at least - Grendel's Return and the more usual crowd-led Sugar Mice, before Steve departs to shake some hands, have a well-deserved beer and sell some prints.
We seemed to have a little bit of a mid-show dip after he left the stage - naturally enough, I guess. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with Jigsaw or Blind Curve, just a slight loss of focus. Personally I'm in the habit of giving myself a little mental nudge after an hour of a show anyway, as I find otherwise that I tend to operate at about ninety per cent for a fifteen, twenty minute period before latching fully back in to things. I was really pleased to get the chance to do After Me again and Uninvited Guest, even if I could sing Kayleigh, sandwiched between, in my sleep. Then came a belter of a closing version of Forgotten Sons and we temporarily retired to tumultuous applause.
I got to sit out the first track of the encore, as we'd invited original Misplaced vocalist, Eva "Loyloy" Dalsgaard (appropriately now misplaced enough to live in another country) to sing Hooks In You. A couple of months later I recalled this moment, as I stood playing rhythm behind Huw Lloyd-Jones, the original Also Eden vocalist, guesting on Skimming Stones. I don't know how many people expected Rothers to come back at that point but he duly did and we rounded off the show with Garden Party (including more excellent twin guitar work) and Market Square Heroes, the latter of which I'm not actually sure we'd rehearsed. We took our bows and climbed down from the stage to go and chat to those for whom we'd been cheerleaders for the last couple of hours.
Do we really need a playback of the show? Funnily enough, Ludo and I often do listen to Gamla show recordings, in particular, when we finally get back to his, as Emil usually produces soundboard CDs for us. They can sound quite strange sometimes, when there's no atmosphere mics, as the vocal melodies disappear whenever I let the audience out front sing; I've noticed that I've developed a tendency to not now completely drop out at those points to compensate. This one's pretty good - I really should get around to a little light remastering of it. With YouTube videos tending to go up within the hour these days, there's less incentive, but it's fun to pick out the gems that others have missed, because they're not necessarily the better loved numbers - or don't feature actual members of Marillion!
We wake relatively early on the Saturday for a spot of breakfast and a wander back down to Gamla for Steve's guitar clinic, most of which I spent slowly but silently warming my voice up with black coffee. Afterwards we take to the stage for an "unplugged" set, which I hope was good fun for the audience, even if it was a little disorganised between numbers; the numbers we did play included another stab at an acoustic Forgotten Sons, which Ludo, Vissi and I had debuted sitting outside at a rather chilly Port Zelande way back in 2007.
It was appropriate that we ended with No-One Can as, as is always the way with Misplaced, too soon it was time for us all to part ways again, with Octo, Vissi and Jani loading their cars to head back to their own neighbourhoods. I really love these guys such a hell of a lot and I'm sure the audience can see the huge affection, not to mention trust that there is between us. We all make the odd slip but we all know there's four people standing around to catch us if we do. This is hugely liberating for a musician in the live environment. It speaks volumes that, since we met in 2005, we have played approximately twice as many gigs as we have had rehearsals.
Those of us who remained bid adieu to the crew at Gamla, as the leading lights of The Web Scandinavia had organised a large table or two at a nearby restaurant. As we wandered over, we passed the infamous statue of Kate Moss in "interesting pose" and, for some strange reason all the men in the party seemed to stop when Sarah said, "I can do that". We had a somewhat more relaxed meal, nattering to Steve and others about how the weekend had gone; properly chilling out. All too soon though it was time to head back up the hill to Sofienberg for a relatively early night, as we had an equally early start in the morning.
It was a tad chilly when we woke at Ludo's on Sunday morning and made our way down to the hotel to escort the others to the station (Graham and his bass case had to get a taxi!) - minus thirteen, I think it was. Apparently Simon had spent most of the night sleeping on a sofa near reception to avoid the snoring! Whisked back to Gardermoen on the FlyToget, through the dreamy, snowy landscape, everyone had had a blast and it was a very happy four fifths of Also Eden plus Merchandiser who settled into our seats for the return flight. Back at Gatwick, Grandma had one more trick up his sleeve, blocking an entire travelator with a trolley, upon which rested...
Thanks to The Web Scandinavia, everyone who came to the gig, my fellow Neighbours, to Steve Rothery for being a pleasure to work with, my Also Eden bandmates for trusting my mad ideas (mostly!) and all of those who bought Also Eden merchandise and enabled us not to lose too much money on the whole adventure.
Vocals - Rich Harding & Eva-Kristine Loy Dalsgaard ^
Guitar - Orjan Risa Svensen & Steve Rothery *
Keys - Jan Magne Bjelland
Bass - Geir Amundsen
Drums - Jan Egil Overkil