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Weirdest Gig ever
Old 26th September 2016
Lives for gear
C.Lambrechts's Avatar
🎧 20 years
Weirdest Gig ever

Hi Robb,

What's the weirdest gig you ever did ?

Old 26th September 2016
Special Guest
robballan's Avatar
🎧 5 years
Fidel Castro

OK I'm going to cheat a little here. This is lifted from my blog. I never tire of telling this story. Normally over a glass of Rioja.

Manic Street Preachers – Teatro Karl Marx, Havana Cuba 1994

You might have heard of this one. God knows I’ve told this story enough times. The Manics, in their own inimitable style, decided to play in Cuba, out of solidarity and to see what was going on. The record company didn’t want to get involved so they paid for the whole thing out of their own pockets. It was a big deal, as no Western rock band had ever played there before, and it was even on CNN as a news item.

We, of course, had a slightly different story seen through the lens of the roadie world. We had to bring in everything. Every single thing. There was nothing there to put on a gig. We hired a charter jet to fly in all the smaller stuff, but PA stacks and racks, trussing, lights etc. were shipped in. The stuff from the airport arrived on time, however the container ship carrying everything else couldn’t get through the reefs to dock because of bad weather. We had a few things and got on with setting all that up. All we’d asked for was 100 amp three-phase power and some local crew to help physically move our stuff.

The power: each phase was made of twenty pieces of 5-amp cable bared at the ends and twisted together. When we explained that wasn’t really what we had in mind to tail into our distro we got another surprise. In order to give us this much power they would have to close the power down for a whole swathe of Havana so we could only have all of it for the show. Anyway it was a hypothetical problem seeing as all the kit was stuck outside the port in raging seas. We decided to call it a night and come back the next day and see where we were. Next day, no sign of the ship. Next day the same.

We woke on the day of the show to good news—the ship had docked and the PA was on its way to the gig. Great, we rushed to the theatre and then waited around for a couple of hours. Eventually it turned up in these ancient, flatbed trucks. The local crew, who all looked a bit too clean-cut and martial to be the local crew (secret police?), showed no interest in unloading trucks. I had a little Spanish and tried to explain that normally it was considered part of their job description to help carry equipment. They explained they were just going to sit there in the shade and smoke cigars and such, Claro? Yes, clear, no ambiguity at all. We had to load every single flight case by ourselves. It was 40 degrees Celsius and humid. No air-conditioning of course. This was before my road-to-Damascus digital conversion and we had to manhandle my huge old analogue board and effects racks to the FOH position up a million or so stairs. Man there were some sweaty roadies that day. Anyway we got it all in and up somehow. All ground stacked, even the lights. We had enough power to turn bits on one at a time.

Some kid turned up in the afternoon and asked if he could play guitar. He explained that he loved rock music but couldn’t afford an electric guitar and only had an acoustic; he just wanted to try an electric guitar, just this once. Deptford was going to kick him out but James said no, let him have a go. He’d never seen all these amazing amps and pedals and his face just lit up. Then James strapped his Les Paul around the kid’s neck and he grinned like he was fit to burst. Loads of white teeth, great dental care in Cuba, but there are no electric guitars. The first chord caused him to stagger backwards from the sheer power of the amps. It’s still the loudest guitar rig I’ve ever heard. Anyway he played his heart out and we all loved it. It felt like a real connection. He didn’t leave empty handed, let me tell you, now there was at least one electric guitar in Cuba.

We completed our sound check, of sorts, and were sitting around watching as the crowd poured in. The Karl Marx theatre is the biggest in Cuba and holds five thousand people. The young crowd had banners and flags and were so excited. The first ever rock gig they or anyone else in their country had seen. The tickets were 25 cents each! It was at this point we we heard a mad rumor; Fidel Castro was going to pass by the gig and say hello to the band. No, surely not. Then he was there. Tall and straight, wearing full jungle fatigues, hat and everything. I remember he had a really sharp crease down the front of his combat trousers, immaculate. He chatted to the band and named a couple of their songs he liked. Incredible, this man had fought alongside Che Guevara and now knew Manics songs. He said he particularly liked a song about baby Eli, who’d been at the centre of a sad family tug of war case that was in the news at the time. He asked if the boys could play it early in the set, as he had to leave for another engagement. So you’ll watch some of the show? Really? Amazing! Nicky then ventured that as we were a rock band and we’d flown in a huge Turbosound Flashlight PA from the UK, he felt he should warn Mr. Castro that it would be really loud.

Castro looked down at him from his full height, with his big beard and booming voice and said “Son, it cannot be louder than war”.

So there I was in Havana, which was all-dark outside, because we needed all the electricity in the whole town to do our gig. Fidel Castro sitting behind me, literally behind me, nobody between us. The gig is worldwide news and five thousand screaming kids are going to see their first ever gig. Not just another day at the office then. I have to say all the kids in the audience were warmly smiling and waving at ‘El Presidente’ as if he was a favorite Uncle, not a military dictator. “Eh Jefe, Eh Fidel Buenos noches.”

The gig was amazing. The kids loved it and had a great time singing along and waving their flags, a bit like a very humid, cleaner version of Glastonbury now I come to think of it. The leader stayed all the way to the end. I kept looking over my shoulder thinking what must he make of all of this? He had a benign smile on his face and sat there tapping his foot as if he was having a great time. I hope he was.

That night, after we had put everything back on to the lorries, we had a great celebratory party. Who was going to believe this story when we got home? We kept shaking our heads and saying, “did that really happen?” We were supposed to leave the next day in the morning, but then the message came through at breakfast: before you leave you have to have lunch with El Presidente!!

“But what about the flight?”

“Don’t worry the plane will wait”.


Before lunch begins, El Presidente Fidel Castro stands up and taps his glass for silence. He then says in his huge, bass heavy, declamatory voice: “Yesterday I said you couldn’t be louder than war. I was wrong. You were louder than war and you, you” he points at Sean the drummer, “you are the artillery.”
Old 16th October 2016
Gear Addict
1 Review written
🎧 5 years
Thanks a lot for sharing !! amazing story !!!!

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