PRAGUE…I really missed you!

In 1962 Swansea was the setting for the Peter Sellers Film ‘Only Two Can Play’.  Sellers played the part of a frustrated Librarian who has his head turned by the glamorous wife of a local councillor. As well as being a librarian Sellers character is also the local paper’s theatre critic.

As the ‘affair’ develops Sellers is persuaded to miss the opening night of a new play to meet up with his latest flame.  To cover his tracks he writes a review of the production without seeing it.  He drops off his review to the newspaper offices before heading out for what turns out to be an evening of frustration. 

It is only the next morning he finds out that the performance had to be abandoned when a fire in the theatre led to an evacuation.  That was the front page news, unfortunately his fictional theatre review had also been printed inside the paper.

If you write a weekly column sometimes you can be stuck for ideas.  Last Saturday I knew exactly what I was going to write about this week.  In fact, just like Peter Sellers, I could have written it and handed it into the South Wales Evening Post before catching my plane to Prague last Monday.

The trip to Prague had been booked weeks ago.  I am currently working on a new album to be released this autumn to coincide with my Golden Jubilee Celebrations and my concert at the Swansea Grand Theatre on 3rd October. 

As well as being a beautiful city full of history Prague is home to about 5 symphony orchestras and a number of world class studios.  It’s the perfect place to go to record the strings for a new album.

Having been there in 2020 I knew there was plenty to write about to give the ‘piece’ some colour.  I had first been to Prague during the communist era when I was on tour with Art Garfunkel.  Back then it was grey and dirty.  When I went in 2020 liberated Prague was full of colour and life. 

For centuries Prague had been home to the Habsburg Empire so the city has some wonderful grand old buildings.  The Old Town Square is spectacular during the day and possibly even better in the night when the main buildings are all lit up to create a ‘Hollywood’ inspired image of Europe.  Good newspaper travel articles always cover food. Plenty to talk about here. The restaurants serve Czech specialities like Roast Duck and of course the country is famous for its pilsner lager.

Prague January 2020

My last trip was in mid-winter. With this session booked for June I was sure to get lots of great shots and video footage of me and my team enjoying ourselves working in the studios but also eating out late at night in a street side café.

Then of course there was the Orchestral Session itself. The studio has an amazing history.  It had been the home of radio broadcasts before the second world war and it was reported that Albert Einstein had played there during his time in the city. The Nazi’s used the studio for propaganda broadcasts before the communists took control in 1945 and did exactly the same thing but with a slightly different message. 

In recent years, as the Czech Republic has opened up, the studios have been updated with the latest equipment and draws in artists from all over the world including Wales.  Luke Evans recently recorded his new album there.

These days, when you release a new record you have to think of all of the digital content you can gather to support the release. I had collected 5 video cameras to take with me so that I could record the session from just about every angle.  The footage I had taken on my last visit had been incredibly useful when I released the album ‘Butterfly’ allowing me to feature the various sections of the orchestra.

Finally, I would make a YouTube documentary about the trip.  I had a little video camera with me in the car on the drive up to Bristol airport.  In 2020 I had started the ‘Butterfly’ documentary in the same way, but it had been raining.  This week as we drove to Bristol the sun was shining.  I thought it would be a nice contrast.

So there it was, my column was all set to go, all I needed was a couple of pictures in the afternoon Prague sunshine and I was good to go…except I didn’t go!!!

When we arrived in Bristol Airport it was obvious things weren’t going to plan.  Getting through the crowds at security was a precursor to a packed departure lounge full of families trying to keep their kids and babies cool and fed.  There were people lying on their luggage trying to sleep to pass the time.

We checked the flight on the board and found out it was delayed so we decided to have something to eat.  The delay kept on getting delayed.  Eventually after nearly 9 hours the news finally came through.  The flight had been cancelled. 

That was it.  We were told to collect our bags and leave via the arrivals gate.  We were all stunned but realised there was a lot to do before we could allow ourselves to be disappointed.  Our cars had been stored and stacked in a car park off site and the one guy working that night had to find the keys and the cars.  That was another couple of hours we’ll never get back.

Then the session itself.  With the start of the Official Covid Enquiry this week we are all very aware of the incredible loss of life and business that the pandemic brought on all of us.  It has also meant working collaboratively over the internet has become easier with the technology moving ahead leaps and bounds. 

The studio in Prague has clients from all over the world and many don’t have to time to travel to the studios in person.  The studio has developed a very simple way of joining a session remotely.  Having got home form Bristol Airport at 1am I was up at 6am and travelling to Ystradgynlais, to the studio of my arranger Andrew Griffiths, to monitor the session.  With the session set to start promptly at 9am Prague time, which is one hour ahead of us here in Wales, we had to be all set up and ready to go at 7.30am.

If I’m honest the results we got from a wonderful orchestra were perfect, 13 songs in a day.  As an experience it wasn’t exactly the same but that was always going to be an added bonus. But as well as writing this column I was also planning a series of social media posts. 

Andrew Griffiths holds the score in the departures lounge Bristol Airport

I had started to post on social media from Bristol Airport.  The next morning I posted a video from the studio in Ystradgynlais which featured the orchestra on a screen in the background. 

In no time I was getting messages from people hoping I was enjoying Prague.  With so little time between the cancelled flight and the remote session I had not ‘announced’ that we hadn’t got there…so I kept posting. I posted a picture of me from 2020 in a Czech bar saying I needed a cold drink after a long session.  I did, it was just I was in Wales.

Sitting in bar in Prague… in 2020

It got me thinking about our lives on social media.  People can get a very different view of your life than the way it is in reality.

On social media I had gone to Prague had a great time and got back in time for a walk along the beach on Friday morning.  In fact I posted a picture yesterday saying how much I missed Prague, but it was good to be home.  That was all true.  Thanks to EasyJet I had missed Prague completely and Swansea Bay was beautiful.

What a week.  Now all I have to do is try to get my travel insurance claim in!!!

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