CAMBRIDGE, The Portland Arms – 20th July – Day 9
We wake up outside Cambridge Junction, where the bus is parked and hooked up to power. We’re using their toilets and showers. I can’t help but wish we were using their venue, as we wait for over an hour for a taxi to take us to the Portland Arms.
We needn’t have worried about keeping people waiting as the PA guy is over two hours late anyway, and when he finally arrives it’s obvious we’re going to have problems. For the first time on the tour the PA system is a mess of cross wiring that takes an hour to unscramble and rewire. The audience are beginning to file into the outside bar area when we are asked to soundcheck. We opt for a quick line check (playing songs from the set while people wait outside feels a bit lame) and retire to what is without doubt the hottest, most uncomfortable backstage area in the country.
We have traveled the length of Great Britain to find the worst backstage area and have struck gold. The only tiny window opens out to a heating system below, which ensures that the toasty dressing area is fully baked. People are sitting in pools of sweat. It’s not much fun.
The hottest room of the tour, however, is waiting for us downstairs. It is painfully obvious that The Portland Arms is unsuitable for a three band rock bill in a heatwave. A steady flow of sweat drips from my wrist before a note is played. This wasn’t going to be a hot gig. this was going to be an endurance test.
As photographers with zoom-in lenses are jostled about from their two foot vantage point, my concerns are focused on audience welfare. There isn’t a security guard in the building, and this tiny venue begins to look like a threat to public safety. Especially when the fire doors are flung open, which sees even more people squash into the minuscule venue.
An hour of breathing in sweat steam, and with one look at Conny, I can see we are in some kind of trouble. The room begins to spin and it’s all we can do to keep breathing, keep singing, keep playing. There is no side-stage so we plough through the set and into the encores while struggling to keep our heads up and legs from buckling. The audience forms a very uncomfortable mosh pit which forces the front row towards to stage. The sight of people having their shins crushed is all I need to call it quits for the night.
Once back in the mini sauna upstairs I’m greeted to the sight of Ryan being dragged into the room by crew girl Pam. He has passed out downstairs, and with the severe heat exhaustion he is currently in a state of body shock. Pam has to also be taken outside for a breather as the conditions worsen. This is the first time on this tour that she has left her position at the merch table. She is mortified.
When we finally make our way to the bus, conversation obviously points to tomorrow’s show, in the same venue, in the same conditions. The smart money is to protect people’s health, so the decision is made to cancel tomorrow’s show. With the final weekend of gigs on the horizon, risking people’s health and safety would be idiotic.
The Portland Arms is probably a great acoustic venue, but a dangerous and disorganised sweat pit for sold out rock gigs in hot weather. I’m sure that some bands might see this as a punk rock bonus. Until someone is eventually seriously hurt this should not serve as any kind of credential.
Band and crew will get a much deserved day off tomorrow. We will finish this tour in style.