After an hour or so the music crashes to a halt. The lights dim. The audience (we hope!) roars its approval. Jason stands up, raises a hand microphone and informs everyone that we're taking a break for about twenty minutes, after which we'll be back to play some more. The band smiles, waves and departs the stage as the house lights come up.
While I reckon I can make a pretty good guess at what the audience does during the concert interval (chat about the show so far, grab a drink, queue for the loo, check the merch stall – good option! - stretch a leg, pop outside for a smoke, check Facebook/Twitter, any or all of the above), I suspect that few of you out there know all about what goes on behind the half-time scenes. Well, if you're reading this I assume you've had the good taste to attend an Australian Pink Floyd Show concert from time to time, so now you can learn all about how Tea Club fits into our intermissions!
Ah, tea... Alexander Pope's "Bohea", Tetley, Yorkshire, PG Tips, Typhoo, darkest tips of Orange Pekoe... all infused with boiling water then sweetened to taste with a splash of milk or sugar... Oops, I'm waxing lyrical again, I've been told about that. I couldn't possibly get as lyrical as Mary Braddon did in her 1862 novel Lady Audley's Secret, though: "The floating mists from the boiling liquid in which she infuses the soothing herbs; whose secrets are known to her alone, envelope her in a cloud of scented vapour, through which she seems a social fairy, weaving potent spells with Gunpowder and Bohea." If there's a more delightful way of saying “She makes a pot of tea”, I haven't encountered it. But, back to the matter at hand!
The TAPFS Tea Club was established a couple of years ago and was generally administered by audio operative Richard “Emma” Cook, who would nip off to the backstage catering area of each venue during the last number of the first half and quickly run off a few brews so that anyone fancying a half time cuppa could walk backstage at the start of the interval and pick one up immediately without having to queue and thus lose valuable relaxation time. That's all it is, really, but it's become something of an institution! Emma isn't with us this tour, so I've taken over. (I'm Mike. I play saxophones. Hullo.)
So, let's give you a quick run through of Tea Club as it occurred at the third show of this tour, at the Dome in Marseille on February 2nd. As soon as we'd finished playing “Us And Them” (an apt song, see below!), I left the stage, placed my tenor sax in its stand and headed straight for the catering area. The first in this series of photos produced, with no apologies, by my shaky hand and an old iPod, shows how step one was to pull on a pair of latex gloves, line up a set of paper cups (and my own pottery mug) by the hot water tureen, kindly left unpacked for us by the lovely catering staff (big shout out to Steve, Mark, Alice and, by the time this is published, John!) and insert a tea bag into each one.
By this time “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2” was well along, with Dave Fowler's first guitar solo audibly in progress, so I judged it best to get on with the tricky process of filling several paper cups with hot water in quick succession while not splashing it all over the place. Consequently this vital part of the procedure went unphotographed... but I did manage to get a snap as I filled my mug up. Sadly, none of these pics do justice to my tour mug for this year, decorated as it is with an engraving of the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna. It would be nice, and glamorous, to let you imagine that I picked it up in Vienna while on tour, but in fact it came from a Sue Ryder shop in Bedford last week. So much for glamour – and indeed, for digression!
In a bit of a rush now, because Jason's keyboard solo was ending which meant that I had just the length of Dave's second solo to get the job done before thirsty band and crew members began to appear, I set about the task of swiftly stirring each cup (to ensure sufficient brewing) then removing the tea bag from each cup, again without splashing all over the place. In Marseille I was greatly helped out with this by Alice, who left me one teaspoon as she packed around me – it's so much easier to fish out a tea bag with a spoon than with a continental stirrer! That done, it remained only to splash a little milk into the cups, give each one another quick stir... and test the results. As the two nearby selfies show, the job on this occasion was a good 'un!
And so it goes. Tea Club membership isn't formal: although on the 2012 US Tour provision of one's own pottery mug was mandatory, we've done away with that. Nor is it fixed: although there are several regulars, anyone is welcome to join in, and more do so when the catering area is relatively close to the back of the stage. Principally, it's about providing a service which helps to make the working night more relaxing and comfortable, and is also, I think, an example of the kind of small, regular ritual activities which can, at their most positive, help keep a rock touring organisation, necessarily composed of an assemblage of greatly differing individuals, bonded together. And that's quite as serious as this blog is going to get!
Next time, who knows what? I'll tell you when I've worked it out myself!
Footnote 1: Pink Floyd And Tea.
Tea was referenced quite often in the lyrics of early 1970s progressive rock bands, often in revival of the word's 1930s-1950s use as a code for marijuana; eg Gong's “Flying Teapot”, Caravan's “In The Land Of Grey And Pink” and many others. Pink Floyd, however, were not one of them, with tea not even making the ingredient list of “Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast”. In fact, Pink Floyd's only reference to tea that I can think of offhand is the final line of “Us And Them” - which, as suggested above, is oddly appropriate to the sequence of actions described here.
Footnote 2: Keeping It Multimedia!
For your listening enjoyment, here's a little song with lots of tea references which, while not a prog rock number, was greatly in vogue, often performed and recorded, in the 1960s and 1970s. In contrast, I'm not aware of its having been newly recorded as yet during the 21st century. The poem is called “En Famille” and is here recited by its author, Dame Edith Sitwell, over an instrumental backing composed by William Walton and played by an ensemble conducted by Frederik Prausnitz.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS HAPPILY OUT-OF-COPYRIGHT 1949 RECORDING