A diary of the road crew battling snow and ice to get to the next gig
By Julian Purser

I joined the band in Lucerne, having flown direct from Bristol to Zurich, and there being collected by Andreas Wandfluh, with whom I was travelling to the gig that evening in the Kulter - Und Kongresszentrum, which is in the town centre, close to one of the many lakes in Switzerland. We met up with the Band in their hotel, Hotel Rebstock, and went with them to the hall. Before the sound check, there was a rehearsal of a Duke Ellington title, Merry Go Round, which will hopefully soon be included in the programme. The concert was well attended, and it certainly helps that Chris can speak fluent German. After we had cleared the stage and loaded the vans, we decided to walk back to the hotel. This was not a good idea, as the roads were all iced up and we nearly slipped on more than one occasion!

The next day we travelled north to Schaan, which is in Liechtenstein, close to the Austrian border, and got to the hotel (Schaanhausen) around lunch time. After a spot of lunch we rested for an hour or two before taking the vans round to the Theatre (Theatre Am Kirchplatz), which had been renovated since the band’s last visit, with excellent dressing rooms. Again the concert was well attended.

The next day was a day off (this was useful as the next day’s the travel might get difficult) so the band spent the day variously relaxing: some played pool, some read or watched films on their laptops, etc. The hotel was most comfortable, and the food and drink just right.

On the Wednesday morning (8th March) we went back southward towards Arosa, which is near Davos. The journey was through one of the valleys in this part of the Alps, and luckily the roads had been cleared of snow and ice. We started our ascent of the mountain to Arosa at Chur (there is a narrow-gauge railway from Chur up to Arosa, and some the Band parked their cars in Chur and rode up on the train). Obviously we in the band wagons had no choice in our method of ascent, so started on the long road up, which was one long succession of bends, many sharp, with in most places a long drop off the offside of the road. The barriers, when they were provided, would not have stopped anything as they were wooden, and not very safe looking! At the bottom the road was snow free, but the higher we went the worse it got. I give Barry and Mike top marks for their driving. I felt quite safe. We had snow chains with us, and had hoped not to use them, but on reaching Arosa itself we slowly ground to a halt; the chains were then put on to complete the last mile of the journey, by which time it had started snowing again. (It was to fall for the next 24 hours.)

We arrived at the Hotel Excelsior early afternoon, and found Chris waiting for us. The hotel is a road crew’s nightmare, as the room we were to play in was two floors up from the entrance, so all the equipment was manhandled out of the vans and into reception, and then carried up the stairs, or piece by piece in two small lifts. The Excelsior is a refined and upmarket hotel, and the guests seemed to be all German or Swiss. It looked to me as though the British (except the Band!) have not found Arosa yet. The band played two sets starting at about 9.30, to a packed room. At the end we took down the stage and took the gear back down in the lift and stairs to reception ready for the off at 9 in the morning. This was the first of two long hard days.

We did, however, leave on time in the morning (you can see in the photographs how much snow there was). We were able to move the vans and load up, and keeping the chains on for the first half of the journey down to Chur we headed for Seefeld and Austria. Seefeld is also up a mountain, but except for about 200 yards we did not need the chains.

The Hotel Klosterbrau was at one time a monastery, hence the two types of uniform worn by the staff: the men wore monks robes, while the girls wore Tyrolean dress. This time all the gear had to carried up a long set of stairs to the main bar (there must have at least half a dozen bars and dining rooms -- it is a large building). Unlike theatres and concert halls were there are stage hands to help bands, at both Arosa and Seefeld there was no staff to help. The band’s one set started at 10.15 and finished just before midnight! A long day indeed.

My time with band had now finished and on Friday morning I left very early (5.45 in the morning) to take a taxi to Innsbruck, where I caught a train for Zurich. Even this was not all plain sailing as there was a blockage (snow) on the line, so we had to decamp into coaches for the middle part of the journey. However, I arrived at Zurich airport in time for my plane back to Bristol.

I have a lot of admiration for the road crew as they work extremely hard, and for long hours, and gigs like those at Arosa and Seefeld are some of the hardest. My thanks go to Mike and Barry (I travelled with Mike) for looking after me for the trip. The only casualty of the Swiss trip was Mike’s Renault van which broke down a few days later!

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