There’s an old saying
‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
Like most things in life it only became real to me when I failed, after having failed to prepare. That sort of goes hand in hand with another saying,
‘a fool learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from others’.
That’s the thing about experience, it can be an expensive acquisition.
Planning a theatre tour involves a lot of moving parts. You book the theatres, you design the print and advertising material, you work out your budget and with careful use of a spreadsheet you plan out your marketing strategy. Sometimes the show you are planning to take to the theatres is tried and tested, maybe a musical that has everything written down in a production book or a set list for a band that has worked for years. Other times it’s a brand new show and with a new show you don’t know what might go wrong.
Mal Pope tour flyer from Autumn 2019
Back in August 2019 I had a plan. First, I was going to book a long theatre tour for the following spring. Then I was going to write and record a new album from scratch. Then I was going to set up a fitness programme whilst rehearsing a new 2 x 50 minute show.
Preparing for the tour that never happened
The record involved travelling to Prague to record the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Part of my plan was to take a couple of little video cameras with me so that I could show the orchestra on a big video screen at the theatres during the tour.
To be honest I was fairly pleased with myself and life in the early spring of 2020. With the help of ‘Low Cost Vans’ and ‘Peter Lynn and Partners’ I had thousands of posters and flyers printed. I had also spent part of the autumn of 2019 learning how to edit video footage and I was well on the way editing together the orchestra for a number of songs.
I had the orchestra videos all lined up in Spring 2020
Then as we all know, along came Covid. Slowly and quietly at first but before long it became clear that all of the best laid plans including those made by everyone in the world of entertainment had been completely thrown out of the window.
At first there was a whisper that some of the dates might have to be postponed. The next step was to start rescheduling the tour dates. As the dates were only moving a couple of months I kept on with the rehearsal schedule as planned. Then spring turned into summer, summer into the autumn and finally some dates were rescheduled for 2022.
Compared with what so many people went through during lockdown having a tour cancelled seems of little consequence but for people whose whole life revolves around working in front of people the situation was desperate. For a couple of weeks, maybe even up to a month, it seemed like an enforced holiday. With the wonderful weather making everyday seem like we had all moved to Ibiza work really took second place to trying to book a delivery slot from Tesco and Sainsburys or wondering how to turn that flour we managed to get hold of into bread.
Of course, it didn’t last. The novelty of being forced to stay home soon felt like a prison sentence and the magnitude of our situation was all too easy to see with so many of us losing loved ones and that continuous drip feed of bad news in the media.
The new CD all ready to sell on tour in Spring 2020
On a professional level my problem was that I had a new album and a new batch of songs I wanted to play. I also had a brand new CD called ‘Butterfly’ that I would really like to sell to pay for all of that recording in Prague.
But I had to do something. As the weeks passed I found myself writing new songs. I found ways to work with my band the Jacks without actually seeing any of them face to face. Eventually I found myself with a whole new album recording socially distanced…. but what about the last one. The one I had stored in boxes in my garage, the one I had promoted on the posters and flyers.
I thought it was a problem I would have to address, but it would be sometime in the future.
I decided that I would take one of the new songs which had a really summery feel to it and release it as a single. By nature, all musicians must be optimists. If they weren’t they have given up long ago and got a proper job. Releasing a single is a test of your optimism. You hope for the best but expect the little.
I think I first realised the latest release ‘I Still Think About You’ was going better than expected was when my plugger rang me the day after he had serviced the radio stations. He said even though the record wasn’t available until 3 weeks later we had 3 interviews booked in the following week.
With a bit of work, we managed to bring the release date forward a few weeks on Spotify and Apple Music and the interviews just kept coming. Day after day more and more radio stations started to play the record including the one every record company craves, BBC Radio 2.
During the interviews I would talk about how I had been discovered by John Peel, signed to Elton John, sung Fireman Sam etc. Then they would ask about the new album Butterfly’. As the new single ‘I Still Think About You’ isn’t exactly on the old, new album I skirted around the questions. That’s one for the future I thought.
Then came the phone call.
One of my dates for the tour was at the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl. It’s a lovely venue with lots of history including that transatlantic telephone performance by Paul Robeson at the Miners Eisteddfod in 1957. The last time I had played there was to a packed hall in 2016. The date had been moved a number of times in 2020 only to land on 9th July 2021. On my website I had a disclaimer saying these are the dates but due to Covid they were very likely to change.
It was my theatre booker Ian Parsons who called. We’ve kept in touch over the last 18 months laughing as new dates were put into the diary. The conversation went something like this, ‘Mal, you know that gig at the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl in a couple of weeks for the ‘Butterfly’ tour, well it’s on!’.
I must admit I sat there for a moment in a state of shock. So many things went through my head. Firstly, I knew I would have to forget about the news songs and start concentrating on ‘Butterfly’ again.
Would I find all the videos I had made; would I remember the words to the songs? Then there were the really practical, physical questions. Although I had played guitar during lockdown it wasn’t like gigging for hours on end. The tips of my fingers were very soft. Would I have enough time to toughen them up before the gig. What about my voice, would it last for a 2 hour show?
Well I’m soon going to find out. I have a couple of weeks of ‘pre-season training’ before my first outing on 9th July. If I’m honest I’m a little nervous as well. I haven’t stood to sing in a room full of people in over 2 years. I’ve been told its like riding a bike. The problem is I haven’t ridden a bike for 2 years either!!!