Fairlop Tour to Barcelona


Fairlop Brass Band – Barcelona Tour 2014

After months and months of planning (and more e-mails than we ever expected) the Band Tour started to come alive a week or so before departure when the Tour Polo Shirts arrived.

As they were handed out we already started to get a flavour of what was ahead. Kevin had, as ever, gone for a conservative black, but it was noted that Steve Smith and Gary Thwaites (who were sharing a room on tour) had gone for matching Powder Blue tops! Sheila’s selection of day-glow orange was greeted with “I did not think the orange would be as orange as that!”, and there were many questions to Alan Poultney as to why he had chosen the Aqua Blue Colour – Alan immediately blamed his wife for the selection and claimed he did not know that this was a colour.

Jeremy Lewis and Gary Patten had again volunteered to drive a van to Barcelona containing the instruments, music stands, banners etc. All van luggage was dropped off on the Sunday prior to departure (this caused the usual Monday night Rehearsal to be cancelled – a traumatic decision that Kevin is still trying to recover from). The van was collected on the Tuesday and after several attempts all was loaded on, and the van was able to depart to enable it to arrive in Barcelona at the same time as the Band.

Day 1

The day (or rather very early morning) of departure arrived. The meeting point was the North Terminal at Gatwick airport at 4.30 am. Various means of getting to the meeting point were evident, most of the party arrived on the Coach that started at Birchanger and made a Brentwood pick-up. Others had treated themselves to a luxury night in the Travelodge, Premier Inn or Various Hotels near Gatwick. Gary Thwaites was unable to take this option as he had no idea which airport we were flying from.

Most surprising to all of us was that we all arrived on time, and met up with the two “Honorary Fairlopians” Nigel and Mike who were joining us for the tour. Check-in at the BA desk went without problem and we all headed off to find some breakfast before we boarded the aeroplane. The flight was fine (except for the worst breakfast ever served) and we soon landed in Barcelona – where it was hot – to be honest very hot!!

First memorable tour quote as we waited at Barcelona airport for our luggage; Sarah chatting to someone by asking – “were you on the Barcelona flight”? – oh dear another Sarah say’s programme page looms.

A short coach transfer to our hotel saw us arrive at 11.30am. We had asked for an early check-in, but as the hotel was full only some of the rooms were available. The usual band spirit kicked in and rooms where shared to allow people to freshen up after their journey.

Sheila had arranged two optional tours for the afternoon, one party set off to tour the Camp Nou (home of Barcelona FC) whilst others set off on a Tapas Tour (which is an up market pub crawl with food) with Kevin questioning the wisdom of alcohol prior to an early evening rehearsal, although this did not stop him attending and enjoying his fair share of drinks and nibbles.

Everyone assembled after two excellent tours for a short rehearsal prior to dinner. The rehearsal was ideal as it gave us a chance to just brush up on a few areas before the concert the following day, and we all enjoyed the experience of playing together again.

Our first day ended with an enjoyable dinner and a few drinks in the bar prior to most people retiring early after a very long day.

Day 2 – hot again!!

A full day ahead for most people, with two optional tours, an early dinner and our main concert. However, first casualty of the tour as Gary Patten reports in sick with a virus that appears to be having an adverse impact on all areas – he is confined to his room!

A good sized party headed off to the Sagrada Familia. On arrival we were indebted to Jeremy’s linguistic skills as he booked us in for our tour. This was more detailed than we had imagined and ended up with Lesley having to wear a badge saying she was a teacher, and Jeremy having control of the audio tour equipment.

The few hours we spent at this fabulous Cathedral were for many one of the highlights of the tour. Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece is almost impossible to explain, but most people were in awe of his creative genius.

It was also here that we saw the first of many, many signs advertising our concert, and giving us an insight to how big the evening concert was going to be. Kevin’s name appeared under the Bands, and this gave him obvious delusions of grandeur, which were totally ignored!!

After a quick snack the group headed off to Park Guell (or the Gaudi Park as it is known), via the excellent Barcelona public transport (note for London Transport colleagues Jon Carter and Mark Wheeler, helped by Andy Carters app of the Barcelona Bus Service (all public transport in Barcelona is air conditioned, and it works!!) for an enjoyable wander through this delightful park – by now it was very, very hot!!

Back to the hotel for an early dinner, a catch up on what the people who were not on the trips got up to, and then on the coach to travel to Parc Ciutadella, the venue for our evening concert which was part of Barcelonas annual “Music in the Park” festival.

We arrived an hour before we were due to start, and were surprised that there were already a handful of people waiting for us. It was great to see that the Bandstand we were playing on was excellent, and opposite a wonderful water feature topped with gold plated statues.

As we started to set up, the crowd steadily grew and by the time we assembled for a pre-concert photograph, nearly all the seats had gone and more were being laid out.

At 8 pm we took to the stage and began a concert that none of us will ever forget. The Band were in top, top form with an audience that was obviously enjoying the evening. The organisers said that the audience amounted to around 700 people, and for the first time ever we received applause at the start of a piece as we played the Catalan National Song, quickly followed by the March that the Barcelona Football Team walk out too (here we must thank Jeremy for his inspired work in researching these pieces, and making an arrangement of them which also included a traditional folk song made famous by the Spanish Cellist Pablo Casals).

At the end of the concert the Band enjoyed the biggest standing ovation in its 46 year history, and this proved to be a very emotional moment for some of us. The Band left the Bandstand to mingle with the crowd and whilst most of us do not speak Spanish, we could understand the word of “bravo” and “fantastic” and the huge smiles as we shook hands.

Back on the coach the atmosphere was electric as we all recounted various tales from the evening – Tina said she was next to an English couple who were trying to find the Yorkshire village of Fairlop on their smartphone, when told that we came from Essex their response was “we didn’t know they had Brass Bands in Essex” – they do now. Kevin recounted the moving conversation he had with two blind members of the audience who wanted to say how much they enjoyed the evening, as they said in their broken English – “music is all we have now”. Several of the Band said how thoughts of Holly had come flooding to them in our very emotional Amazing Grace performance, and everyone said this could be our greatest Concert ever.

We all met back at the hotel for a drink before bedtime, when the tour could have come to an end in tragic circumstances; the Barman reported that we had drunk them dry and there was no more beer left!! Any tears not shed on the Bandstand were evident now as grown men started to cry and look for their passport; however, the day was saved by the Barman obtaining emergency supplies from a local bar.

By the way – still hot!!

Day 3 – only mildly hot – but it was hot by the end of the afternoon!!

The options were either a free day, or a boat trip today – and it transpired that those who opted for the free day made the best decision. Those on the Boat Trip arrived at the harbour to be greeted by two policemen, two stag and one hen party. But all these were far less of a problem than the sea. The gory details will not be reported, but just to say that only a few of Fairlop Brass are suited to life on the ocean waves. For most their trip was spent gripping the side of the boat and staring at the horizon, hanging over the edge of the boat looking at the sea or staring at the bottom of a bucket!!

Needless to say there are many tales to tell, and several Band members were pale and disoriented at dinner. Good news – Gary Patten ventured out of his bed today, feeling much better but not up to the boat trip (good choice Gary).

Day 4 – hot again!!

Once again a free day until we all had to assemble at the hotel at 6pm to take the coach to our second concert. This was being held at Sitges, a small coastal town about 40 minutes from Barcelona.

As we alighted from the coach we were struck by how humid it was, particularly as we had a short walk to the venue. This was like no other we had ever played at, being a full sized stage in the middle of a complex of flats. We were encouraged as we walked past several posters advertising the concert, and although we knew that Brass Bands were not the standard fare, we were part of the local Music Festival. To one side of the stage was a café where a number of locals were sitting enjoying food and drink in the evening sunshine, but as we set up there were some concerns over the size of audience we would draw. However, as 8 pm approached the audience grew and by the time we were a couple of pieces into our performance the audience had swollen to several hundred.

The Band again played well and received glowing praise from the locals as we mingled with them after the performance, before heading off to a local restaurant for a late meal. This turned out to be quite an experience with a starter that seemed to be a mix of lettuce and fruit salad (tasted good but just looked wrong). There was then much exchanging of food as the main course fish dish arrived with added squid and muscles (a good course for Gary Thwaites who ate most of those on his table).

We then headed off to pick the coach up for the journey back to Barcelona.

Day 5 – you guessed it – still hot!

Optional tour today to Monserrat.

Despite constant pleas from Steve Smith that this was in the Caribbean, we boarded the coach for the hour or so journey to Monserrat. On arrival we followed tour leader Sheila (as she had the tickets for the railway to the top of the mountain). On arrival we were greeted by the fabulous monastery and the group dispersed. Some headed for the funicular railway up to see the small church of St Joan, whist others opted for the steep walk up. There was another funicular railway down to see several religious works of art, or you could opt to go into the museum or the basilica as well as shops and bars. A great day was had .by all who enjoyed the beautiful scenery, whilst Jon Carter and Mark Wheeler could enjoy the trains

The usual evening drinks in the bar was a mass of people exchanging information as to what they should do to make the most of their last day in Barcelona, reassured that the barman had now secured sufficient stocks of wine and beer for all.

Day 6 – hot as ever.

A sombre breakfast room as we all realised that this was our last day, but lifted by a great determination by many to just do that one thing they had missed, be it the Sagrada Familia, The Gaudi House, The Beach, Tapas etc.etc.

All luggage, instruments etc. for the van had to be down in the underground car park by 9 am, so that Jeremy and Gary could try to remember how they got everything in on the way out, and be ready to set off back to England later that day. For the rest we had to be out of our rooms by 11 am, but we did have a room for luggage to be stored and to freshen up before our journey home. Everyone then dispersed to make the most of their last day, before heading back to the hotel for a 7pm departure.

In the last couple of hours the room we had retained was in constant use, with an orderly queue of people waiting to get ready before we left.

We all boarded the coach with a relieved barman looking forward to more leisurely evenings. It was a short ride to the excellent Barcelona airport, a swift check-in, before the usual round of duty free shops and snacks. Andy Carter made the compulsory purchase of the giant toblerone and a few others made the most of the a few deals in the duty free shop. We were soon boarding our plane for an incident free flight back to Gatwick, with the Captain greeting “Fairlop Brass back to the UK” over the intercom as we taxied to our stand.

Our luggage arrived very quickly and then we all started to wend our way home, with the usual “see you at Band next Monday”, and arrangements to collect the things we had put on the van from Lesley and Jeremy.

This was the Bands 5th European Tour and each has been memorable, but none could have been better than this.

During the tour we were supported by a group of “roadies” and supporters who made sure that we were all ready to play when we should have been, and to those (too many to mention) we offer our sincere thanks

Finally our thanks must go to Jeremy and Gary for driving the support van, Steve Smith for all the financial arrangements, and the biggest thanks of all to our Tour Organiser Sheila Ellis.

Things we learnt in Barcelona:

It is very hot in Barcelona in August

Sarah discovered that all flights to Barcelona land in Barcelona and will be called the “Barcelona flight”

Gary Thwaites can sleep anywhere

Gary Thwaites does snore – room mate Steve Smith had to resort to stuffing his ears with toilet paper to try and sleep

Jon Carter will not be making any applications to join the Navy

Gina Carter developed her nursing skills to incorporate sea sickness, and that she is the best sailor in the Carter family

British Brass Bands are loved all over the world

For a week Kevin (well his name) was famous – but nobody knew who he was

Orange tour polo shirts will last the longest, as they do not get worn

18 Fairlopians can fit into a small plunge pool at the same time – leaving little or no room for other hotel residents

Every group needs an Andy Carter – a technically minded person with a Barcelona Public Transport app on his phone

And finally, whilst we did already know this – Fairlop Brass is an exceptional group of people