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Dave Arcari on tour: no regrets and whisky and wild, wild strummin’

A month on the road with everyone’s favourite snarling Scottish psycho (and sometime PSNEurope contributor) Dave Arcari – in his own words

A month on the road with everyone’s favourite snarling Scottish psycho (and sometime PSNEurope contributor) Dave Arcari – in his own words

Dave Arcari is a full-time touring solo musician and songwriter based on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. A 100 per cent independent artist and control freak, Arcari and his wife Margaret – who is his full-time tour manager, booker, merchandiser and production liaison – manage and run all aspects of life on the road. Playing venues across the UK, Europe and the USA with capacities from 50 to 500 or more Arcari is faced with facilities and production from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here’s a month of the ups and downs of life on the road as an independent musician…

Friday 1 July 2016

First show of the month tonight in Dundee… and the first of a series of four shows for the city’s Almost Blue festival.

Tonight’s 6pm slot at a wee pub in Broughty Ferry (like a suburb of your typical provincial town) was a last-minute request from the festival organisers.

Having been assured there was a PA at The Gunners pub, we reckon a 4.30pm load-in will offer plenty set-up time for a 6pm kick off. After all, it’s just me on stage – armed with three National Resophonic guitars and a… erm…banjo. Actually, most engineers are impressed with the sound of the humbucker pickup built into the Kavanjo head. Everything’s DI’d though a pedalboard and augmented with a footstomp via a Wazinator stompbox.

We get to the venue and the PA is two unbranded tiny (10” driver) powered speakers balanced on bar stools,an M-Audio DJ mixer (or excuse for one) and a plastic mic with a four-foot long captive cable. Oh dear.

To cut a long story short, I write down what I think we’ll need to make a noise… some kind of mixer, XLR cables, a mic stand… and the manager goes to pick it up from somewhere. Luckily, I’ve got a couple of DI boxes and an SM58 (pictured) in my bag in case of such emergencies.

By 6pm the place is rammed – luckily a lot of die-hard fans from Dundee who’re happy to buy me beer and chat until a Mackie mixer and other stuff we need arrives.

We get some kind of excuse for sound going and kick off the show. Somehow the distortion enhances my sound and the place goes nuts for the next hour-and-a-half.

I’m fuelled by a steady stream of whisky from the floor. We have a great time, the crowd’s right behind me, Margaret shifts a ton of merch and the pub/venue manager’s delighted!

Not sure these speakers will ever be the same again though…

Saturday 2 July 2016

OOOFT! I feel like I’ve been hit by a big stick. I blame the hard mattress rather than the shit-load of beer and whisky… not to mention the wine when we met friends after the show!

We load in to this evening’s venue – Clarks (Pictured. Credit: M McDonald) – at 5pm, and the place is empty. Booker and engineer Kit is on hand to help us with the gear and we’re set up and sound checked in no-time. Quite a contrast to last night – a much bigger venue, nice stage and not only a good house rig – a pair of Yamaha DXR12s with matching subs and a PreSonus Studio Live 16-channel desk (pictured below) – and an excellent engineer too.

The place has been filling up steadily and by the time soundcheck’s done, the place is full.

I hit the stage and am immediately buoyed by the crowd’s enthusiasm. Magic!

I have an excellent time playing and, again, Margaret sells a load of CDs, shorts and other merch from her wee table by the door… make no mistake, the merch sales make a pretty crucial contribution to us making a living from all this.

Once the stage is cleared and everything landed out we’re fed, then say cheerio and go off to meet some more Dundee pals for a drink in more relaxed – and quieter – surroundings. For want of a better term, I’m pretty puggled! [No, me neither – Ed]

Sunday 3 July

I feel marginally better than yesterday morning. Possibly, due to the fact that although I exerted myself a fair bit playing last night’s show, I didn’t kick the arse out of it drink-wise…

We have a lazy morning doing some last minute online promo for tonight’s two shows and stuff for the forthcoming England dates – London, Newcastle, York and Reading.

Not so much of a hurry today as the first show isn’t until 9pm, and the other 11.30pm.

After some more grub we head to the first venue, Buskers – a nice mid-sized venue that I’ve played many times over the years. It’s typically rock’n’roll with a big house rig.

The FOH desk has moved from out front, to stage left which initially installs a feeling of trepidation – until soundman Jamie wanders out front with an iPad. Phew.

Jamie’s done my sound before and knows the drill – bottom end boost and some top end rolled off the guitars, no compression… Margaret ensures all’s good out front.

If there’s one thing that really pisses me off is engineers that wanna make me sound like some kind of lame-assed singer/songwriter. I can – and expect to – make as much noise as Motorhead… and I like a moshpit. So bring it on. No worries here, though. Jamie, as usual, delivers: and although the crowd isn’t as strong as last night at Clark’s, there’s a pretty good turnout for 9pm on a Sunday night after folks have been out on the razz for three days solid. The “shiny” (technical name for the custom National Style O!) works flawlessly.

After two sweat-soaked, whisky-driven 45-minute sets, we pack up and make our way to the Redd Suite, a downstairs club venue we’ve never been to before. Thankfully I only have to play a 40-minute spot as a ‘special guest’.

A fairly big house rig with old-style stacks and a self-op 24-channel desk delivers more than enough juice and the place is jam-packed when I take the stage around midnight.

We bale soon after my set and return to the hotel for a large dram

Sunday 10 July 2016

Although the first gig of the English leg of the Hellhound Train tour isn’t ’til Tuesday, we head south tomorrow so all the gear need checked and packed… as does the merch.

In between times, I do a bit more pushing this week’s upcoming shows and happily note the reach of yesterday’s Facebook Live stream has broken 160,000. Amazing!

We get all the gear and merch packed in the car for an early getaway in the morning. Hope to hit the road by 8.30am… we’ll see…

Monday 11 July 2016

Just a few things left to get in the car and we’re off. On time!

En route, we stop off at Newtone Strings in Matlock – they’ve been making my custom (extra heavy gauge) strings for years and owner Neil Silverman (pictured) contacted me a few months ago to see if we could work some kinda string endorsement. The result is the ‘Dave Arcari Signature Strings’ that are launching today!

After a photo stop at Newtone, the strings officially going on sale and collecting a big box of ‘em, we carry on our journey to London.

Tuesday 13 July 2016

We make our way into Camden and load in at The Blues Kitchen for tonight’s show.

Showtime’s not ’til around 10pm and generally, there’s no sound/linecheck ’til just before the gig starts… The house rig is two Martin Audio AQ8 cabs and a Martin Audio AQ215 dual subwoofer driven by a pair of QSC RMX2450s and the mix courtesy of a Soundcraft GB2.

Soundman Kostas’ work on treating the stage area enhances the system’s projection into the room and makes a big difference to the stage sound too. The combination of a good rig, a well-treated space and a great engineer makes for first class sound and a hassle-free show.

The gig goes great – there’s a good crowd in with plenty enthusiasm (and whisky!)… and time after the show to chat with folks round the merch table.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

An early start today – load-in at The Cluny in Newcastle is 4pm – and it’s a fairly long drive… especially the first few miles getting out of London. We make good time though and roll up at The Cluny just after 4pm.

It’s always nice when the engineer has everything ready… and even better when it’s someone who’s done your sound before.

The Cluny is one of our favourite UK venues – they’ve booked me right from the start. Starting with well-chosen support slots and developing the audience to the point where I can do my own headline shows there… and I still get invited to supports/double-headers with other acts too.

I must’ve played a good dozen shows at The Cluny and the sound has always been spectacular – the house rig is based around two Turbosound Floodlight mid/hi cabs and two 18” bins serviced by Crown amps, a LMS700 system processor and 44-channel Midas Heritage H3000 desk (pictured). On stage, four Martin bi-amped monitors provide sound for performers.

There’s time to go and check into our hotel, then back to the venue to eat – support band Swampcandy are set up and ready for a quick soundcheck before firing straight into their set soon after doors open.

There’s an amazing crowd in and we all have a blast…

Thursday 14 July 2016

Not far to go – York is only a couple of hours away…

We load in and set up the Woolpack pub’s PA – a Mackie 408m mixer amp and a pair of Mackie C300s on stands. Luckily Swampcandy is preprepared for this kind of thing and saves the day by adding a QSC Touchmix 8, a nice big bass bin and a bag of XLRs. I have two DI boxes and my own we’re good to go.

The QSC TouchMix (pictured) is a great compact mixer which has iOS control – so Margaret and Ruben can work the sound remotely (and wirelessly) from out front, which turns out to be a lifesaver in the busy pub.

We have a great show and a good crowd which, by pure chance, includes two radio DJs from Scotland who are there independently of each other and just happened to be in York and see I was playing!

Friday 15 July 2016

We’ve to check out our hotel room at 11am and I still have a bit of routine stuff to do online – the daily blog on my website, extra ‘day of show’ promo for tonight’s show plus dealing with emails, online merch orders and stuff..

Luckily our swanky hotel foyer has good Wi-fi, so I can get everything done before we jump in the car for the 200-odd mile, four-hour drive to Reading for the last show of this wee run.

Last time I played a show for the Reading promoter, it was at the local arts centre, but it’s closed for refurbishment, so he’s using Smokin’ Billy’s BBQ as an alternative venue.

When we arrive, promoter Dave is setting up a small vocal PA. It’s old school – a 6-channel Peavey 600F mixer at the heart of it. Basic, but enough for the room, and the speakers are big enough to take my footstomp (a Wazinator contraption from Australia that’s like a tin can with piezo and a flat ‘tongue’ for me to stomp on). Much easier than trying a normal stompbox which, while suitable for folks that sit down when playing, is nigh impossible to use standing up.

Quite a few familiar faces in the crowd and it’s nice to chat over a few drinks before we load out and make our way back to the hotel.

Monday 25 July 2016

The alarm goes off just before 2am. Three hours’ sleep… uuuurgh. After a quick shower we pack the car, drive to Glasgow airport and checkin with KLM – looks like we’re good to get the guitars in the cabin… if there’s a problem, they’ll check them at the gate.

Our bags are checked all the way to Helsinki, so when we transfer at Schipol we only have to lug the guitars, my effects case and Margaret’s bag. We just have an hour to get off the plane, find the gate for the Helsinki flight and hot foot it. It’s a long walk, but luckily there’s trolleys.

The Helsinki flight’s full, so the guitars are checked at the gate, so at least we know they’re on the right plane. Sure enough, when we go to baggage reclaim, the guitars show up – but our two big bags don’t.

A train to Helsinki centre, a cab to the port , a walk to the boat then we collapse in a seat with a beer. When we arrive in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, a taxi takes us to the bus station. From there, a two-hour bus ride to Parnu, then another taxi to the Yacht Club where we check in and enjoy dinner and drinks outside as the sun goes down.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

We’re pretty gubbed [Again, nope – Ed] when we wake up… and we’ve slept in a bit.

Not to worry, we’re soon up, dressed and on our way to check out Versus – ‘the blues cafe’ – the venue for today’s kick off shows for the Parnu Blues Festival.

It’s a nice 120-or-so capacity room with a basic, but adequate PA for the job – a pair of powered FBT ProMaxx 14a full-range cabs (flown…but with rope!), an unknown sub and a tiny Alesis MultiMix 8 mixer (pictured). FBT is an unknown quantity to me, so I’ll be interested to see how the sound is.

It’s blisteringly hot and sweaty… my show’s not ’til later this evening, so there’s time to go back to the yacht club for a rest before heading back to Versus with the gear. My show isn’t ’til 9pm but we need to get there in time for loading in and changeovers.

There’s a capacity crowd in the room – and a lot of folks we know from previous Estonian trips.At the front there’s two guys filming the whole thing with about eight cameras, a few photographers and it’s boiling hot…. I’m soaking before I even hit the first note!

The crowd is fantastic, the PA seems to handle my onslaught with relative ease and I have a real blast… plenty of whisky keeps me going until the end when I collapse in a heap backstage.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

The temperature’s through the roof again today and I have two shows. One at 3pm at Versus, then a main stage show at the Yacht Club tonight.

We watch the opening acts, then I take the stage for a 45-minute set, trying to play a different set from the one I played last night.

I hadn’t been expecting many folks at a mid-week afternoon show and although not as busy as last night, the place is still full and I have a great show.

We chill for the rest of the afternoon while the Yacht Club main stage is rigged for the show. Not quite what we’re used to for an outdoor show in the UK but adequate for the space – there’s two Studiomaster 450W JX12A active cabs and a 750W JX18SA active sub per side with out front control via an Allen & Heath GL2200 desk (pictured).

There’s just myself and a local support act tonight – the ‘big’ show is tomorrow night – but the crowd’s totally up for a good time and the whisky dulls the pain.

Thursday 28 July 2016

A lazy day – just one show today on the Yacht Club stage.

First band is scheduled for 5pm, with subsequent acts at 6, 7, 8, 9pm (myself) and 10… each playing 50-minute sets. The programme runs late right from the start, but eventually I get on stage and have another good show. Lots of folks have travelled a long way to see me here.

Once I’m done we’re about to settle down for a drink when, on her way to the bar, Margaret takes a nose-dive and comes back covered in blood with a handful of teeth. She tripped over the remains of an old metal pole in a poorly lit part of the path.

The Yacht Club staff are great. And it’s only minutes before the ambulance, and five paramedics arrive. Next stop, the emergency room at the local hospital where Margaret’s mouth is cleaned and stitched up. Thank goodness for the European health card/insurance… all this costs is five euros! There’s no dentist there, though, so the next phase of repairs will need to wait ’til tomorrow.

Friday 29 July 2016

It’s after 2am when we get back from the hospital… and we’re up early to get to the local dentist by 7.30am to see what can be done about poor Margaret’s teeth and mouth.

She gets a temporary fix, then we drive a couple of hours to Tartu for tonight’s show. The promoter’s put us in a great hotel and Margaret gets the chance to rest up for the afternoon.

At Baar Edison, a small PA is set up and ready to go in a big courtyard at the back (pictured) … it’s surrounded by high walls and could be a bit of a challenge sound wise, but a quick soundcheck doesn’t throw up any problems and the system – a pair of FBT Lightforce full-range 500W cabs driven by a Yamaha EMX512S 2 x 500w powered mixer – manages to cope with my footstomp. I said before, I’ve never come across Italian-made FBT cabs before, yet here in Estonia I’ve come across them in two venues and been pleasantly surprised by their performance.

The place is rammed and the booker and owner are delighted – busiest show they’ve ever had, they say.

Although still hurting from last night’s accident, Margaret works the merch table with a smile on her face and keeps all our customers happy with T-shirts, CDs, bottlenecks and other merch. The merch sales are an important income stream on every tour and we’ve done really well this trip.

Saturday 30 July 2016

Thankfully Margaret’s feeling a lot better today as we embark on a two-hour bus ride to Tallinn.

Tonight’s show is at Von Krahl (pictured) – probably Tallin’s best small venue – but first I’m doing a “meet and greet” and instore performance at the World Clinic record store.

Von Krahl’s KV2 Audio ES system with two ES1.0 and four ES1.8 cabs and outboard EPAK active electronics/amplification provides a fantastic front of house sound – and onstage the four powered JBL PRX612M monitors make sure I not only hear myself onstage, but get decent sound too! A Yamaha 01V 96 desk controls FOH and monitor mixes (pictured).

There’s a great turnout, good merch sales and we’re delighted with the ‘last night of the tour’ show.

Tomorrow we head to Finland for a couple of days’ rest in Helsinki then back home to prepare for more UK dates in September, a USA tour in October/November… oh, and I’m meant to be finishing writing/recording a new album too!

Picture: Top: Live at Von Krahl. Credit: Leif Laaksonen