Looking for Europe 14: London – loud love

October 31st

Now things were really starting to get disorientating. Where were we, exactly..? We’d been at a show in Manchester the night before, slept in Birmingham, and were now going to London before coming back to Birmingham but sleeping in Nuneaton… oh help!

Even if we barely knew which city we were in, or to be honest, who we were, we somehow got ourselves out and onto the train, headed in the right direction, and with breakfast successfully obtained. I was so tired; the first thing I saw on exiting the train was a branch of AMT Coffee, and I beelined straight to it!

We hung out, recaffeinating, for a while until I heard from M that he had also arrived in London, and we headed off to meet up with him. He was already at the agreed meeting point when we arrived, and predictably had found the most awesome busker, possibly the coolest looking guy I’ve ever seen playing complex and rhythmic Spanish guitar. We stayed and watched him for a bit, and then went in search of lunch (to M’s favourite falafel shop, which he had find memories of from his time working in London!).

Gradually I began to feel a little more human! We headed to the hostel and checked in, and all of us crashed out. It took some effort to shake us awake enough to head back out again, but we did eventually drag ourselves and each other off to the venue.

Cold air, friends and pre-Switchfoot excitement did me good! We hung out with the US fans in the VIP queue, and before too long my own bandmates showed up too! They were not doing VIP, so M went and waited with them.

Drew’s daughter checked us in today! She had her work cut out, as this was by far the biggest VIP event I’ve been to (there were around 40 of us, which I appreciate is not large by many standards, but for Switchfoot in Europe that is a lot!).

This was an actual large venue, with a second tier of seating and very ornately decorated, the first time I’d seen Switchfoot play at such a venue since my first show back in 2011. Everything since has either been clubs of varying degrees of smallness, or large festivals, and since I loved the small and intimate shows so much I was unsure what this one would be like, and if it would feel as special with a bigger crowd…

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Once we were all in, Switchfoot kicked off the soundcheck with Afterlife (Drew – wow!! Such incredible guitar noise!) and then on request played Vice Verses (Jon – wow! But he always sounds sublime singing this one :D)

Then there was a more usual round of ‘Questions, comments and concerns?’: I asked why they often play rare songs at soundcheck even before anyone else has arrived and there is no audience. Jon said ‘Why do you climb a mountain – because it’s there’. I do wish they’d bring more of the back catalogue out in public though, especially if they still enjoy playing these songs.

I had meant to do a funny Meet&Greet photo for Halloween with us all looking scared, but with a lot on my mind I forgot. However Jude did it and she’d had an even better idea, to get Drew to do his scary joker face and have everyone else reacting! It creased me up to see that unreal face in person! ๐Ÿ˜€ But I did remember to hand over a box of pumpkin cookies from M, fulfilling a long-held ambition (they asked his name, said to say hi and that they’ll look for him in the crowd), and to ask a prayer request on behalf of a member of the ‘fam who had asked.

After a short wait back outside, the doors opened, and that large venue got pretty full, which was great to see. ๐Ÿ™‚

Alvarez Kings were really stoked tonight! In the opener they yelled ‘London!’ And they played a great solo too. Simon the lead singer was performing a lot more with his hands, and putting in a lot more expression. He made several funny comments too: ‘I’m out of shape… stages are big!… taught Switchfoot some Yorkshire lingo… dodgy chicken..’ ๐Ÿ˜€ The drummer had his tongue out a lot! I got some eye contact from the bassist tonight, and was the human mic stand again, again I knew before they even started their set so I think Simon must give out telepathic vibes or something! ๐Ÿ˜€ The sound was noticeably a lot better tonight and I managed to pick up a lot more of the lyrics; thinking the last thing these guys needed was to be playing to a bunch of disinterested Switchfoot fans on the front row night after night I had made an effort to pick up enough to sing along and engage with the songs right from the start, but I felt like I was really getting to know these songs now.

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Then two more firsts for me; the venue gave out cups of water to us all, and there was a big display screen behind the stage, so we got all Switchfoot’s backing vids tonight (they’d used some in Basel, but they used them all the way through tonight)!

They once more opened with the full electric Hello Hurricane and got the crowd going, singing along and jumping. The crowd’s energy tonight was fantastic where we were!

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During Stars Jon paused, smiling, to survey the crowd in a way I’ve seen many times previously, but hadn’t seen yet this tour. It felt good already. ๐Ÿ™‚

Stars led straight into a vid of John M Perkins on the screen, introducing The Sound; it was an INSANE performance!! Woah!! I let go and danced like a crazy thing, it was so much fun to rock out to!

Introducing YLIAS from there, Jon said ‘There’s a theme to tonight’s setlist. I believe in a love that’s louder than hatred, louder than racism, that all our wrong notes in this symphony of life will be made right by the Composer Himself.’

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Then he jumped into the crowd for Bull and LAIWTF, dedicating it to Chad as apparently this is yet another place he used to live! Jon wove his way through the crowd and worked us all from the back as though it were no different from any other venue I’d seen him play; even that large, two-tier crowd seemed just as engaged with his performance. Back up on stage, there were smiles and hugs between the guys and the crew. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Beginning IWLYG, there was a funny moment when Drew made an accidental guitar noise somehow. ๐Ÿ˜€ Jon told us tonight feels ‘like family, church, community…’, and I had to agree.

They played House Burns*, and then at the end of the song Romey disappeared… and reappeared on the drums with Chad! They played The Clash’s London Calling! Jon was all hair, definitely getting into his punk side! ๐Ÿ˜€

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Dark Horses followed, then… Jon fetched a ukulele that he had been given at Meet&Greet!! :O Jude had requested The Edge Of The Earth a few days ago, and he had given a particular look in response like he was thinking about it… but this..! He said being given the uke he took as a sign since we’re a long way from the islands and it doesn’t happen often; he wanted to play one of his favourite songs that they’ve never played before as they wanted to bring something special out for London… and they actually played it!! I was pretty teary and trembling! That EP is up there with my favourite albums. I know many fans who have seen them many, many times and never heard them play a single song off it, but this is now the third time I’ve seen one of these precious songs performed. It was so special! They started all gathered around the ‘fancy mic’ then returned to their positions for a truly epic ending. Wow. :’)

I filmed it, and you can watch it here; the camera visibly gets the shakes over that ending, and I turned the camera round at one point and captured the pure joy on my face, which is absolutely genuine.

It took a little longer to get there this time, but by the time they were closing out with Where I Belong and Meant To Live the energy was so high I was back near Bristol heights of ecstasy, yelling and shaking and rocking out in absolute bliss… Singing ‘We want more than this world’s got to offer’ when the world can be so very good felt almost greedy. It was a mind bending reminder of God’s goodness, that God does indeed offer much more than even this.

They again played Float as an encore, and despite the prominent ‘No Crowd Surfing’ posters everywhere Jon did indeed Float (over me, I’m pleased to report that I did not drop him!).

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There was an interlude with Jon talking about s’mores whilst introducing Live It Well, and he got his old friend JJ up on stage for a shoutout to thank him for all he’d done to support them right from the start. This I was very happy about, as it was this same JJ who had made Jon’s solo show happen back in June, and that had been extremely important to me, so I appreciated being able to thank him too.

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And then they finished once again with Dare You To Move – but ohhhh it was so nice tonight! Jon got the crowd lighting the stage with their phone lights. It was as pretty in real life as the pictures I’d seen! A magical way to end another stunning show. ๐Ÿ™‚

And then what happened?! Everything seemed ripe for a second encore but the crowd stopped! I stayed at the barrier, partly speechless, partly fangirling with other fans, and partly waiting for Josh to throw me back my flag, which this time had ended up backstage. When I eventually got my things together to leave I found one of Drew’s guitar picks underneath.

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Afterwards was funny; I met up with M and our friends and we were hanging out, and refreshing twitter, then suddenly everyone went round the side of the venue to the stage door. We didn’t know why for a while as there had been no tweet, but it turned out it was the venue staff wanting us out the street so we didn’t make a noise. It was funny as all of us were so hyped up that every time anyone went in or out there was a cry of ‘Wooo!!!’ ‘*shhhh!!!*’. And I met more cool SwitchFam! We had to keep letting cars and bikes through the barrier we were standing against, and soon had a sort of human gate system going! ๐Ÿ˜€

Eventually there was a tweet!! Jon came out a little while after, and wanted to take us somewhere else but the venue staff really wanted us to stay round the side of the venue where we were. So he got up on a wall, and I lost my vantage point ๐Ÿ˜€ He had just started playing Caroline when the Alvarez Kings’ bus needed to get out and we all had to move once again! ๐Ÿ˜€ Then no sooner had he started a second time there was a loud siren in the street..! It was fairly silly! But he played, and we sang. There had been a lot of singing from the crowd tonight. He played 24 and Your Love Is Strong, and our friend was pleased he played 24, a favourite of his, at his first aftershow. It was so lovely seeing M and Jon both singing together! ๐Ÿ™‚ And then he was gone, and we headed back to get some sleep.

So it seems a large crowd can actually love even louder. That was easily one of the best ever concerts of my life. I had no idea music could feel like this :’)

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*Yes I was finding far too much entertainment in this silly saga but for the sake of completeness, and letting you know what actually goes through my strange mind during concerts… well, Jon did come over to me at the right point in the song tonight, but I wonder if I lost my ‘spark’ since I hadn’t been paying attention the night before when he did it! There was brief eye contact this time but he didn’t sing ‘to me’ ๐Ÿ˜€

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Looking for Europe 13: Manchester – finding warmth on a cold day

October 30th

After a much-needed lie-in we eventually headed into Manchester and met up with SwitchFam friends from France and the USA for a late lunch and cocktails (‘Well it’s 5pm somewhere right?!’)!

It was not a particularly warm day, and though we were thankful it wasn’t giving us typical Manchester rain, we were so cold lining up for the VIP event! When we got let in I had on my very sensible, grownup, fox shaped mittens; they said hi so I waved to them wearing them, and when they noticed the silly foxes they laughed! Drew did a double, and triple, take! When they saw the American ‘fam were here they were amazed, especially seeing a hometown fan here, who got a joyful ‘What are you doing here?!’

The guys asked what they should play and the US fans all yelled ‘Awakening!’ There was a general agreement, so they went for it! Jon said it was quite a high one for ‘this time in the morning’ as it was for him back home. But they did it and it was awesome! I just rocked out ๐Ÿ™‚ You can watch it here.

Then as a little boy was there, Jon asked what his favourite song was; it was Looking For America so he said the boy would have to do Lecrae’s part ๐Ÿ™‚ Chad suggested playing Hope Is The Anthem, which went down extremely well with everyone, and they played with so much passion. Again, I filmed it so you can watch it here. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter how small the crowd is.

At Meet&Greet they asked me what we’d done the previous day. I told them about the ferry journey, and that I thought it was great but it wasn’t so for Jude (Chad kept apologising to her, as if it was his fault!!). I told them how I was up on deck watching the sky and the dolphins and how spectacular it was, and all the seaspray, and that I came away knowing how it feels to be a salted peanut! I got a hug from each of them.

I asked them to sign my setlist from Bristol; I said I don’t normally like asking them to sign lots of stuff but I felt they should put their names to this as they should be proud of it, it was so incredible and the best I’d ever seen them. Jon agreed it was special; he highlighted Teardrop as he spoke and said maybe they should release a cover of it, and I told him it was stunning, and they played it so well. Then I asked him if he had read his card; he said yes he had got it out the other night and gone through it and ‘unpacked it all’, he was really touched by it. I also passed on a request from one of the card’s contributors to play in her country and he said yes they’d love to.

Then I filmed Jude’s meeting for her; Chad saw me and photobombed it to say ‘Helloooo’ in a silly voice ๐Ÿ˜€

Then we headed back out to line up in the cold. We had some good chats to other chilly VIPs, it was great.

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The venue was a large club, with a black interior and a balcony running round that unfortunately was closed for this event. They were very strict about what you could take in, which was a bit annoying, especially for friends who wanted to use decent cameras. But with or without our bags we all made it in eventually.

The Alvarez Kings were back to their pranks tonight; in the process of stealing the drummer’s stick the singer again knocked the cymbals over, but less disastrously than in Dublin! Their drummer is amazing; he has such a loose style, twirling the sticks as he plays, and singing along with his eyes closed and a big smile, looking like he’s having the time of his life. We could hear more of the guitar tonight, and they put a solo on Somewhere Between.

Switchfoot opened with the full electric version of Hello Hurricane again, which got everyone jumping!

As on previous nights they followed up with Stars, Jon making eye contact but not for ‘partly cloudy’! Then he departed from the setlist to play Needle, before going into YLIAS and LAIWTF.

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Then they played IWLYG; Jon spotted a little girl in the crowd with ear protectors on, sat on her dad’s shoulders. He went over to her and asked if she was having a good time. He said to all of us he often gets asked how to write songs and that he has found it difficult to answer, but that he has figured it out now; ‘start in the darkness, and search for the light’. Going back to the child, he said this song feels like a father holding his daughter; ‘I look at you and have to try not to cry’, at which the whole crowd said ‘Awww!!!’ :’)

Next, Jon startedย Dark Horses with the slow, acoustic version of the chorus, before going into the usual rocked out version. It feels very moody, and was really awesome to see played this way.

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Then he went into the crowd for Bull, saying ‘Can we get the party started?’.

Back on stage, they started playing House Burns, and Jonย started singing too late and caused a timing error, though he recovered it quickly, and the others were not thrown by it. Such professionals.

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Then they played 24 round the fancy mic!! Jon told the story about the skateboard incident and how he wrote it realising he wanted all the broken pieces of his soul to be whole. It was acoustic right to the very end when the others drifted back into their positions and seamlessly brought in the full band, gorgeous.

Then they played us one of their favourite covers, The Verve’s Lucky Man, for Manchester. I’ve seen them cover this one a few times on other fans’ videos, but never in person. Their version really does sound fantastic. I decided I’m a lucky fan! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Again they ended on Where I Belong, Jon again wearing my banner, and then Meant To Live, andย woah did they rock hard!!

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As Float began for the encore Jon came back on stage with a mouthful of water, and spat it out into the air like a fountain, which made us laugh! Tonight the disco ball was working, just a little slowly, but Jon crowd surfed and successfully floated this time!

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He got everyone swaying for Live It Well before finishing with a heartfelt Dare You To Move.

Afterwards we headed back out into the cold. There were doubts about an aftershow happening, but I was going nowhere, having done what I always tell others never to do the other night by leaving a show straight away when he tweeted that there wouldn’t be one. I at least wanted to see them again.

But I got the tweet; he retweeted another fan asking, to say ‘So, aftershow?’ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ He got a whole lot of YES!! in response! I chatted to another friend who I’d met at a previous show. She had to get a taxi back to her friend’s house and was worried she’d miss it as he was late out (almost 12, having said 11:45!) But thankfully she caught the first couple of songs before having to dash.

He played right outside the venue just to the side of the bus to allow the other guys to get back on in peace (though Jude caught them!), and played Caroline, part of On Fire, Before Our Time (‘Whistle solo..? Anyone..? No..?!’ Clearly the London secret whistle chorus had not infiltrated this show!) and Inheritance, for a couple expecting a baby. He asked before he played it ‘Does anyone remember payphones?’ (‘There’s one right there!’) He told us how he used to have to get up at 3am on tour to call his wife, but that she had a huge family, so he’d spend forever dialling in the long code, mistyping etc, only to find the phone was engaged, again! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ๐Ÿ™‚

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Afterwards he came back to the bus past me. People were just thanking him and he was shaking hands and just saying ‘Thanks, goodnight!’ to everyone. I thanked him too, and he turned to me and just said sweetly ‘See ya Helen’ before carrying on :’) I felt like he’s been so warm towards me today :’) I guess it means a lot to know the appreciation is getting through.

Then we had a lonnng drive on to Birmingham for the night, listening to Fiction Family Reunion in the car, accompanied inappropriately by comedy sound effects from Jude’s satnav!

It was a lot later than it felt as I was full of fan-love…

Looking for Europe 12: Belfast – embracing the chaos

October 28th

Today may have started with two of the worst cups of tea I have ever consumed, but it certainly improved from there!

Although we were not looking forward to taking a rail replacement bus over to Belfast the journey was actually pretty good, and we saw lots of autumn colours on the way there. Belfast itself was a surprisingly beautiful city. I realised as soon as I saw it that I had no mental picture of how it would be, but it still surprised me with its art and architecture.

The hostel was just a short walk from the venue and the VIP event wasn’t due to start until 5 so we had plenty of time to chill out. We took our time getting ready for the show and playing Switchfoot, but eventually the pre-show angst began to get to me, and I decided I needed to take a bit of a break from Switchfoot until the show before it got too much, so I went out for a walk along the river, grabbing a silly photo of our mascot KittyJon with a striking statue before rushing back to the show.

When we arrived at venue we could already hear them soundchecking Lonely Nation! We stood and listened through the door. This time we didn’t have long to wait before they let us in.

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We wanted to hear Lonely Nation so much that they agreed to play it again for us inside,ย  after a lot of jamming. Jon’s yells right from the start were really overwhelming, especially to such a tiny audience!! I was almost knocked off my feet ๐Ÿ™‚ They took more requests, and were going to play Afterlife, but something happened and they changed the plan to do Meet&Greet straight away. And then our friend from Dublin arrived, having made the snap decision to come up to Belfast for a second show!!

Jon came over as they were setting up and I told him his yelling was awesome! I was so tonguetied! He said he liked my t-shirt (Fiction Family) and I said ‘I like your band!’, which made him laugh. Chad came over and told us that following them on tour means a lot to them; he thanked us and said it was special arriving in a place they’ve never been before and seeing familiar faces.

During the Meet&Greet Jon was chatting to another fan, saying the transitions between songs were as important to them as the songs themselves so they put a lot of thought into the structure of the setlist so it flows with some rise and fall. Romey gave me a hug. It was a rather confusing VIP event this time as there was a lot of stopping and starting, the guys kept coming over and hanging out, and we were never quite sure where we were meant to be!

However we got our photos; Jude was plotting something again! After we got my picture Tim again thanked me for following the tour. Jon had disappeared but I told the rest of them they’d been my top band since about 2001 and it had taken me over a decade to see them first, and then I had thought ‘what am I playing at, I need to make the most of this’, so I was making up for lost time. I got to tell them I took up bodyboarding this summer too. I was a bit embarrassed to tell that to pro surfers as I’ve really no clue what I’m doing, just got really into it, and I told them that. Tim said ‘That’s awesome, my wife loves it too, keep it up!’

Jude’s picture was indeed funny; she had found some guitar-shaped comedy sunglasses for Drew and he looked hilarious in them! Then she got me in the next picture with Switchfoot temporary tattoos on. Drew asked me should he take the shades off, and just looking at him creased me up so I said ‘No keep them on – for the show! They suit you!’ ๐Ÿ˜€ He looked so perfect! ๐Ÿ˜€ And then Jon told me I’d been in the picture the day before in my absence!! Jude showed me later – she had printed out an embarrassing picture of me wet from the sea and had it in the photo! Oh dear ๐Ÿ˜€

Then Jude got permission from Chico to go in the pit with a photographer’s pass; she was so stoked!! It was still confusing where we were meant to be as the event sort of just drifted seamlessly into the gig set up and no-one showed us out. But eventually we went out to queue and fangirled outside the venue, and we were joined by someone from inside the venue who had seen Jon and rather liked the look of him, which was pretty funny!

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The venue was a brick built club, larger than Dublin’s and plastered in band posters. And it was cold again; I had to keep my scarf on until Switchfoot started. I got a front row spot again, this time in front of Drew.

The Alvarez Kings were delayed coming on; it turned out that there was a lift between the green room and stage, and they had got stuck in it! But the rest of the set was much looser and smoother, with no pranks or mishaps this time, and they looked really pro. I had the feeling even before they started that I was going to be the No Resolve mic stand tonight, and I was correct!

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Switchfoot opened with Afterlife, the request from soundcheck that wasn’t played, which was a nice touch. They sounded amazing!

Tonight I admit I put far too much attention into testing my theory that Jon has certain lines from certain songs he always finds me in the crowd to sing to – and yes, as predicted, when they sang Stars I was ‘partly cloudy’ once again!

They then played Oh! Gravity again. I love how much they have been playing this one! To begin with Jon was having some trouble with vocal effects on the pedal but it nonetheless sounded as epic as ever, and they rocked!

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Then they played YLIAS, and then Bull and LAIWTF, for which Jon was in crowd, coming up by me during LAIWTF, and I lifted him back up to the barrier. I just love watching him interact with people whilst singing in the crowd!

They played Needle (And Haystack Life) for the first time of the tour; that’s the song I’d previously noticed Jon singing a particular line to me in so I was keen to see if he’d stick with it – but no, he didn’t tell me not to let go ๐Ÿ˜€ Maybe he has a new target ๐Ÿ˜€ This one really got the crowd singing. Drew was all hair tonight, really going for it!

Although it wasn’t on the setlist, Jon decided to go into Only Hope, saying it felt right. Again he omitted the second verse.

And then he introduced IWLYG: ‘There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. I look at twitter, I get depressed. I look at the news, I get depressed. There are a lot of reasons to give up; but I realised a while back it’s always going to be this way. I want to be aware of what’s going on, but I also want to be aware of the transcendent love of the Maker Himself. When I write songs I want to acknowledge the darkness in the world and within, but I don’t want to let that be the end of the story.’ This was a new perspective on this song; perhaps it is a bit political and not just personal? None of this (world) is in your control. It’s an amazing song even just taken as a song about God’s love for us, but this gives it a new layer of meaning. As they played, the guys all had their eyes closed, as if each were playing to an audience of one.

Suddenly the last thing anyone expected happens: Jon decides to embrace the chaos, asking ‘Any questions, comments or concerns?’ in the middle of the show, and it goes weird! It went something like this:

Person in crowd – ‘What’s your favourite colour?!’ Jon – ‘The blue of the Pacific, or Atlantic (crowd – ‘wooo!!’), ocean!’

Another person in the crowd – ‘When’s the next album out?’ Jude – ‘Soon!’ Jon – ‘Ahhhh… Soon!!’

Person 3 – ‘Wanna come to my house for dinner?!’ Jon – ‘What’s cooking?’ Person 3 – ‘Whatever you want, your choice!’ Jon – ‘Some sort of really traditional Irish meal??’ย  Person 3 – ‘Then you’ve got stew! We’re going surfing tomorrow too.’ Jon – ‘Got spare boards? More importantly got spare wetsuits..?!’ Me – ‘It’s warm!!’ Person 3’s friend – ‘Got 1 year olds too!’ Jon – ‘What else you got?!’ Jude – ‘Chocolate!!’ ๐Ÿ˜€ So much hilarity! ‘Questions, comments or concerns?’ is a tongue-in-cheek question he frequently asks at sound checks and aftershows, but I cannot believe he did that in the middle of the show, especially right after IWLYG ๐Ÿ˜€

Somehow he managed to bring it back and play Hello Hurricane around the fancy mic! He said ‘We’re family; we’re going to get stew and surfboards and 1 year olds and chocolate…’ ๐Ÿ˜€

They again played the Thin Lizzy cover they’d had so much fun playing the previous night, the gleeful grins on their faces were infectious and we could tell they were having a blast.

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Then I got my last chance to test my song line theory, as they played House Burns – and yup, same line again! Jon wasn’t even my side of the stage, but shot over to me at that line. It’s just a little weird!

As with previous evenings they closed out the main part of the show with Where I Belong and Meant To Live. And they stuck to the same encore routine, except that when it came to Float the disco ball was broken and chugged round super slowly, causing a lot of amusement! Live It Well Jon again invited us to imagine we’re at a California campfire, and he said to ‘person 3’ ‘You’re bringing the stew!’ There were lots of smiles, and they were really grooving with it.

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Then they finished with Dare You To Move. Suddenly poignant, Jon said ‘I never know how many more times I will be able to do this; I live each day like it’s my last. Thank you for a beautiful last night in Belfast.’ ๐Ÿ˜ฅ Lump in throat. Cannot even go there. He began the song with a yell and Tim filled in with lots of bass. And then it was over, Josh once again returning me my banner.

There was no aftershow; a halloween party was coming in and it was raining so we went away eventually and got chips. My fan love was going crazy. Jon is full of miracles. ๐Ÿ™‚


October 29th

The next morning I realised I had made a crucial error: I forgot to air the Where I Belong banner. Oops. I could see the sweat on it last night!! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜€

I couldn’t believe we were half way through! At the same time, tour life had begun to feel like normal life. Perhaps I could live like this..? A voice in the back of my head reminded me that that would be pure escapism however; I do this to keep me fuelled and inspired for facing the real world with all its trouble and pain and injustice. It would be a lie to run away…

Today was purely a travel day; we had a chilled morning, getting up late and having a good breakfast in a cafe together with our Dublin friend, including a decent cup of tea! We went to the station, taking pictures of the venue as we passed…

But then chaos descended again. We arrived at the station to find that the bus we had booked on helpfully did not exist. The next one was going to be later and only arrive at 1:30, which was the last check in for the ferry, and it wouldn’t go to the terminal. I sent out another emergency prayer request!! We almost got put in a taxi, but that too fell through. So, we got on the bus, and prayed.

Embrace the chaos. None of this is in your control…

We arrived back in Dublin just after 1pm and got straight into a taxi, arriving at the ferry terminal just before 1:30… and ha, no way, the ferry was 30 minutes later than I thought, and we were well on time!! ๐Ÿ˜€ Suddenly all the stress dissolved into hilarity and thankfulness! Oh my gosh ๐Ÿ˜€ Oh well ๐Ÿ˜€

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The ferry journey was fab for me, less so for Jude! She got sick, but I spent the voyage up on deck. It was a fast ship and woahhh when it got going was it fast!! It almost literally blew me away! ๐Ÿ˜€ I found myself stuck fast to the railing with all my layers on, and a big grin on my face, wind beating against me, spray lashing, and the boat pitching! The spray threw up rainbows as we powered along and dissolved Ireland into ‘salt hazy pearls’ to quote one of M’s songs, and the sky was beautifully dramatic with a sunbeam-filled sunset as we arrived back in Wales. I saw a pod of common dolphins race past, leaping out of the water, and also guillemots and a shearwater. It was incredible! We got back to land with me saltcrusted, frozen to the bone, and totally stoked ๐Ÿ˜€

After a long drive featuring much singing along to Switchfoot, we arrived back at Jude’s for a chilled evening, sleeeep, and a fairly relaxed morning at home before setting out again for more adventures.

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Looking for Europe 11: Dublin – getting the party going

October 27th

It was another very early start after a late night but I no longer had any doubts. I was doing this. I had stayed over with some Bristol fans after the show and we had even stayed up ‘fanduding’ and having late night tea and toast after getting back so hyped up! But 6am came and I was soon up and back on the train.

Ireland happened almost by accident.

I had planned to see all seven shows in the UK when they were announced and had snapped up tickets for those straight away. However I hadn’t planned to go to either of the non-UK shows. I didn’t feel the need to try and do that this time; seven was easily enough!

However, one of those shows was in Belfast. There was a day in the schedule either side of the Belfast show, which I assumed would be plenty of time for travel. But when I came to working out travel plans it turned out that if I didn’t want to fly (and I absolutely didn’t), the only options were either another day travelling back up to Glasgow, or to go via Dublin, arriving the night before.

Dublin, the night before… hmm..!

I checked ferry and train times, and yes I could actually be in Dublin by the start of the show! And so, ticket number eight was purchased!

I had a gorgeous journey over. I had to send out an urgent prayer request when my first train was delayed, resulting in me missing my connection on to Wales and therefore the ferry, but prayers were answered; I was put on the next train, which turned out to be a better, faster train, and I made the ferry in good time. It was a glorious day, and the journey up through Wales, past beautiful coasts, castles and mountains, and across the sea on the ship was spectacular. I even saw dolphins!

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I arrived in Ireland for the first time as the sun was setting, and just had time to check into the hostel, where my friends had left me some food and I could drop off my suitcase before heading to the show. I arrived at the show just in time; the queue to go in was still short and my friends, who had VIP passes got me a spot centre stage! I’d honestly thought I would be arriving after doors and would be at the back for a change!

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The venue, located mercifully just round the block from our hostel, was a smart, black-painted club, picked out in red light, and absolutely freezing cold inside! Even the crowd barrier seemed to be refrigerated! We kept layers on right through the support band, and hung coats over the barrier to insulate it.

The Alvarez Kings were fun; as on previous nights they continued to prank one another during their set, but the kit seemed to be pranking them too this time. The cymbals fell over in No Resolve (the song in which the singer picks a girl in the audience to be his human mic stand!), causing giggles and panic, then the singer’s guitar strap snapped during their final song!

Switchfoot opened with The Sound this time, a powerful way to kick off. As he’s done previously, Jon added a section calling out ‘Let justice roll down..!’, and ended with a drum jump.

Stars followed, and then Dark Horses; things were starting to warm up now! Jon sang me a couple of lines in Stars ๐Ÿ™‚

They then went into YLIAS; this time Drew’s solo started out quite understated, but then he got creative with it before suddenly hitting epic! He continued soloing underneath the remains of the song but in harmony with it, in a way I’ve not heard before. An amazing guitarist! On the second ‘eyes wide open’ section they stripped right back to Jon on acoustic guitar before the whole band came back in.

Jon got in the crowd for Bull, and there was much hat swapping! He nicked a phone to film with, and stood on rail at the back working the crowd, whilst Drew threw in another awesome solo!

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Still in the crowd Jon started everyone off singing When We Come Alive. He went back and forth through the crowd through pretty much the entire song, people taking selfies with him the whole time, and he ended back on stage holding the mic stand high and getting the crowd to sing.

And then they again played Oh! Gravity. This time there was an awesome jam session in the middle, Jon soloing with Chad. Tim almost knocked the mic stand over, resulting in lots of amused smiles between him and Jon at the irony of gravity, and smiles and hugs between them as they played. And Romey’s piano crash solo!! Wow!

Jon introduced IWLYG, saying ‘This is about a love that won’t let go, the transcendent love of the Maker Himself’.

They followed this with Hello Hurricane, played acoustic around the ‘fancy mic’, but I could hear them audibly, so close I could hear each of them and their individual harmonies, which was lovely. Some girls in the crowd provided nice backing vocals throughout! The sound at this show wasn’t the best quality; it’s hard to put a finger on what exactly was wrong but it just wasn’t coming over at its best somehow. But this song sounded lovely on the different mic.

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For tonight’s cover, the guys chose to play The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy – and they were clearly having a lot of fun!! Drew told us a funny story at the start about how he was really into Wham as a kid and bought a tape, but his big brother literally knifed it to the wall and told him he should listen to this instead! Jon said ‘Let’s hear it for Drew’s big brother y’all! He could’ve ended up in a Wham cover band!’ ๐Ÿ˜€

And then Jon sang me that same line in House Burns! I’m really going to have to ask ๐Ÿ˜€ He began Where I Belong by singing snatches of the second verse over the introductory chords, so skipped it in the actual song.

And then again they closed with Meant To Live. Romey came right to the front leading on rhythm guitar whilst Jon and Drew passed the riff between them awesomely. He actually rocked rhythm at front most the way through, at one point going back and playing the keys at the same time!

Bizarrely the crowd encored with ohley ohleyohleyohley! Again they played Float, Live It Well and Dare You To Move. Jon went into the crowd again during Float and came up by me, I had to help lift him back onto the barrier!

The venue was cleared immediately after that, and Jon tweeted no aftershow, so we decided to go straight back to the hostel for some much needed sleep! But my Dublin friend was devastated; it was her only show. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

In spite of the somewhat ropey sound, that show had a real party atmosphere; I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jon spend so much time in the crowd, there seemed to be a lot of connection.

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Looking for Europe 10: Bristol – cloud 99

October 26th

I may have questioned my own sanity at 6:30am that morning but Switchfoot well and truly proved to me once and for all that they were worth travelling for.

Despite delayed trains I successfully made it to Bristol ok, met Jude, and obtained super hot burritos for lunch (Mission accomplished)! We found the venue, and as in Glasgow it turned out to be a litle confusing again inside trying to find the correct room in an open students’ union building. The guys had posted an earlier Meet&Greet time than their original email, but we took this with a pinch of salt, knowing how Switchfoot time tends to operate; they actually overran by 1.5hrs! ๐Ÿ˜€

We hung out for ages with the other VIPs, chatting, during which time I spotted a tour poster on one of the notice boards, and one of the others claimed it to get signed as a souvenir! Although it ended up being a bit of a wait, at least we were indoors and on sofas, and whilst we were there we got to chat to Chad, Tim and Drew (with daughter in tow) a bit as they arrived, and also to Josh from their crew. Drew said again we were joint SwitchFam queens (I really do have to hand that to Jude!), ‘possibly of the EU or international ‘fam, possibly secret agents…’ ๐Ÿ˜€

After they had all gone inside, we were talking about how we became fans when finally we heard them start soundcheck – and they were playing Holy Water!! Ahhh let me in!! It sounded amazing, and is definitely one of the songs I most want to hear them play. They let us in after they finished that song and took requests, playing Gone, and then playing On Fire at Jude’s request. It sounded incredible!! I went right to the front again and wowwww! I was happyyy! ๐Ÿ™‚

The Meet&Greet itself felt a bit awkward today, the guys were sweet as ever but we didn’t really know what to say to one another. I did request Healer Of Souls again since I knew a lot of my friends who were coming are really into that song (not to mention how much I still wanted to hear it after the sound hadn’t been great in Basel!).

By the time we came out it was close to showtime, and my husband and friends were arriving. We met up and got in the queue, and M sat on the floor making and eating sandwiches whilst we waited! We also found a stack of gig flyers, which we handed out to anyone who wanted one; a good sign..? The last time I had found flyers for a show was in Mannheim and that had been a very special night.

Everything was still running late but eventually we were let in. I was first, so with complete choice of where to stand I went Tim’s side of centre. Jude had a sidestage pass again! I hung out with M, our friends, and friends I’d met at the VIP event, it felt like lovely family gathering.

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Oh my was this show worth the wait!

They opened with House Burns tonight, and however unsure I’d previously been about this song as an opener, this time it was an absolutely awesome, flawless start, and the sound was pretty much perfect! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ There is a certain line of this song that I remember Jon singing ‘to me’ a couple of times back in the spring; he did it again in Glasgow, and yet again tonight, which got me wondering if he does it deliberately! But even one song in he was already giving me a lot of eye contact at this show.

Then they played Stars, and with so much energy! Jon introduced Tim as his little brother, saying ‘This means this is a family event, we’re all family here tonight’; it certainly felt like it.

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The energy continued to ramp up as they went into Dark Horses. Funnily, for the ‘made my mistakes’ line Jon wasn’t at the mic like he almost forgot he needed it! ๐Ÿ˜€ But they rocked hard, even adding a bit of a solo.

They turned it up even more, playing Bull to the delight of my friends, Jon venturing into the crowd, balancing on a rail and sending everyone wild! By this point I was enjoying this show as much as I had any of my previous favourite shows. The sound, volume, setlist, crowd, Jon’s interaction, and the level of energy and quality of singing and playing from Switchfoot was combining into a perfect storm of happiness.

But it carried on getting better! I filmed YLIAS, which you can watch here; Drew’s solo was incredible as ever. That led into LAIWTF, which Jon introduced saying ‘I’m obsessed with the idea that love is the anti-entropy. In a world where everything’s falling apart, lose yourself with everything to gain.’ The crowd were really into it!

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And then they did indeed play Healer of Souls – AAAHHHH!!! I had my banner out on the rail and Jon looked over at me before starting to ask for it so I threw it him and he held it up, getting it the wrong way round twice (‘…one of those rubber sole moments…’) He asked the band what key it was in, but there was no question he knew how to play it. They were so good, all solos and yelling, and although I was filming (evidence here!) I rocked out with them.

And then Oh! Gravity. OH!!! The energy surely couldn’t get any higher?! I was totally losing it, my legs wanting to give way under me but so stoked I was jumping and yelling with total abandon!

Before I actually caught fire they changed pace a little, playing Hello Hurricane acoustic; they had brought with them a new ‘fancy’ mic for the purpose, better designed for picking up their acoustic performance than their usual vocal mics. They brought Chad to the front, which got a ‘wooo!’ from the crowd; as they set up Jon commented that ‘at this point in the show it’s traditional to ask a question to which the appropriate response is always ‘woo!’ Doesn’t matter what it is… how are you feeling? ‘Woo!’ How’s your mother? ‘Woo!” The new mic sounded great, a whole different sound quality that was really nice. And from there they went into IWLYG. Jon sounded so good, and Tim’s bass was shaking the floor!

And then something really special happened; Jon said that on this tour they wanted to honour the UK’s rich musical heritage by playing a song from each city they visited, and tonight they played Teardrop by Massive Attack! Oh my gosh these guys can so play!! Here is a video, which entirely doesn’t do it justice as the sound has distorted a little, but if I can take you there in your imagination, imagine you can feel the sound reverberating around the room and right through you, and those vocals arriving straight from heaven :’)

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Teardrop led right into Where I Belong; I was already gone but this did me in big time! ๐Ÿ™‚ I threw Jon my banner again, but then I just let the music sweep me away. I found myself crying happy tears and shaking and pretty much kneeling in prayer on barrier giving thanks to God and the band. I expected this to be the end of the show, but no sooner had that almighty yell faded they suddenly went into Meant To Live! I was undone!! More happy tears! ๐Ÿ˜€

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That was the end, but of course there was an encore, and they came back on and again played Float. It was so much fun, I danced as crazily as ever, enjoying the bubble party, and there was some wonderful chaos when Jon attempted to crowd surf but disastrously picked the wrong part of the crowd and discovered that gravity did exist after all! He made it back onto the stage nonetheless, and I helped him back up. They incorporated a snatch of Hope Is The Anthem into Live It Well, and then finished me off with Dare You To Move, again rocking out in happy tears to stop my legs giving way and finishing up draped over the barrier, absolutely wowed!

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It was the best show I’ve ever seen. It’s something I’ve struggled to explain, but it was a synergy of all the right elements that made it an incredibly powerful experience that I will call a kind of holy ecstasy that just ramped up and up. Wowow! I had no idea music could transport me like that..! Afterwards I could barely speak, it was very, very special. :’) I’d had a small taste of that kind of feeling at Jon’s solo show a few months back, but I’d put some of that down to experiencing that voice of his like never before, but this was definitely the whole experience of the music; God was in it, and I soared even higher than I’d been before. I’ve never seen the guys play like this; I’d been to higher intensity shows, but that was constant high energy, and I just wasn’t coming down from the ceiling!

There was no aftershow, but a group of us hung out by the bus, ostensibly so that one of the fans could get his favourite album Nothing Is Sound (NIS) signed, but really we wanted to see them and I absolutely had to thank them. We got to speak to all of them eventually, though it was touch and go as they had to make a ferry and the timing was tight as they were meant to go at 12 but were still not on the bus. Thankfully it was not so cold as the previous night!

Chad arrived first. He gave me a high five, and was sweet but implied that we probably shouldn’t stay.

Then Drew came out to hang properly with us, and was absolutely lovely like he had all night. He chatted about NIS quite deeply, all the heartache that went into it and how meaningful it was, the lyrics, Shadow, Politicians, The Blues… Two friends after the show independently commented howย ‘Jon is a very sweaty man!’ ๐Ÿ˜€ They joked about it with Drew too, and he agreed and was like ‘yeah he’s like it all the time!’ ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜€

Next Romey arrived. He was very touched at our appreciation but was also anxious about the ferry as he didn’t think they’d make it, and was worried they’d have to cancel their shows.

Then Jon came over. He was so chilled!! How?! We talked about the show, I told him how amazing I’d found it, and there were laughs about him being dropped in Float! We ended up talking about weather, how hot it was back home and that he liked Fall best, and I thought to ask him a geeky question about water temperatures as he’d joked about our sea being cold and I wasn’t sure how it compared against San Diego, being as we have a warm current and cool climate and they have a cold current and hot climate. He asked Celsius or Fahrenheit, I asked if he spoke Celsius as my Fahrenheit was nonexistent and he laughed and thought, and then failed to translate! I said it was about 16ยฐC here and lovely, and he said their sea temperatures range from 60-70ยฐF usually. Translating afterwards, I conclude they would indeed find our seas cold, even if to me 16ยฐC is leave-the-wetsuit-at-home warm!

Finally we also saw Tim; we almost didn’t see him as he was online with his wife, but he did emerge and sign the CD, I think Jon had sent him. I congratulated him briefly and he talked a bit about bass with the guy whose CD it was.

My friend said to me at the end that I looked like I was on cloud 99, and I think that was pretty accurate. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! :’) A perfect evening. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Looking for Europe 9: Glasgow – 500 miles

October 25th

I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening.

And yet, my alarm is ringing at 5am and I am ready to go!

This was my third time following Switchfoot on tour; it was also the first time I’d followed a UK and Ireland tour, and what has been blowing my mind since it was announced is that it comes within five months of their last visit. I have never known anything like this to happen. Having concluded that I probably wouldn’t try to follow every date on a tour again after the beautiful chaos of the last tour, I immediately went back on my word when these dates were announced. Perhaps if it involved travelling to new cities and countries I would want to spend more quality time there seeing the places I was visiting. But these shows were happening in my own country, in towns I mostly knew and was quite likely to revisit in future, so the pressure was off to go sightseeing. So tickets were booked, and travel plans forged (in that order; always buy tickets first, figure out logistics later!).

The last few days before leaving dragged by. I’ve had a countdown app on my phone since we first found out last year that they were playing BCDO here this spring. When the first of these dates was announced, during tour part one, I set it going again. Since it hit 50 days left, time has disappeared remarkably quickly; it felt as though 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 all came within a week. And then, 7 days left. Each day of that final week seemed a week long in itself! The morning of the 24th I looked at the clock on my screen at work after I’m sure being at my desk for around 5 hours, only to find it was just approaching 10am! It may have been the longest day of my life, and my mind was definitely elsewhere!

However, that 5am alarm eventually rang, and shortly afterwards I was on the train up to Glasgow, cradling a takeaway cup of tea and admiring the autumn colours as the sun came up on this beautiful day.

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I arrived in Glasgow at lunchtime, met up with my concert buddy friend from France, and we checked into the hostel with just enough time to pack our things for the show and head back out.

We caught the bus up to the university and found our way to the Queen Margaret Union. We then realised we weren’t sure exactly where we were meant to be! It was an open students’ union building with several venues inside and students coming and going continually. Clearly we weren’t meant to be outside the building, so we looked around inside, and eventually asked in the reception and were pointed in the right direction. A small group of us gathered outside the door to the room where Switchfoot were playing, but after waiting a while the staff asked us to go up and wait in the bar on the floor above until 5:30.

The wait for the VIP event to begin was somewhat awkward, a small nervous group of us waiting impatiently. I got chatting to folks, and it got even more awkward when it transpired I was following the tour and had done before, I pretty much got interviewed about the whole experience!! I didn’t mind but really hope it didn’t sound like bragging, this is all about making back many years as a fan fail and I still owe the guys a lot of belated support.

But no matter how many times I’ve met them, I admit I was freaking out a bit; for many reasons I don’t usually give them gifts, but this time I did have a birthday gift for Jon and I felt nervy about handing it to him. I also had a birthday card for him full of sweet messages from the SwitchFam, and the thing I was perhaps most anxious about handing them, yet another letter, this time just making sure they knew how political references to ‘Europe’ would be on this tour, letting them know there was no obligation to take my ‘Europe is where the light shines through’ flag on stage if they didn’t want to go there, and explaining that they were really helping me to grapple with these difficult political times, that Europe is the UK’s wound just now and that wherever we stand on it, we should be able to agree on that and try and seek the light through it.

As we waited we had some great conversations about how we’d come to know Switchfoot, about past shows we’d seen, about their music and how important it has been to us.

Time crawled past in slow motion; it was 5pm for about an hour!

Suddenly we realised that through the floor we could make out they were soundchecking Hello Hurricane! I tried to wait until we were called back down… but Jon was singing and I couldn’t stay put. I cracked and ran down to listen outside the door, and everyone else, equally desperate for an excuse, took it as a cue to move too. Oops!! ๐Ÿ˜€

Finally Chico came out to hand us our VIP passes and let us in. He didn’t ask my name. Drew had also seen me in the queue earlier and said he recognised me, and called me the queen of the UK SwitchFam, to which I said I don’t know if I can claim that, Jude isn’t here yet!

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In addition to Hello Hurricane, we heard them soundchecking Bull (In A China Shop), Love Alone Is Worth The Fight (LAIWTF), Travis’ Sing (wow, they sounded great!! This song used to be on their preshow playlist but I’ve not heard them cover it before), then we were let in for Float and I went straight to the barrier and danced like it was a concert!

Jon took a request for their second song from everyone there. He listed them back as best he could remember and asked Tim which they should play, and they agreed on Yet – which was my random request as I’d been listening to it a lot the past week and had seen it on a recent set list. He then asked whose request it had been, and there was mutual embarrassment when I sheepishly put my hand up (‘We honestly hadn’t arranged that!’)! I’m pretty sure he used my name too, which stunned me; I’m not surprised he recognises me by now but to remember my name straight away before we’d been reintroduced was special :O They spent ages setting up to play Yet, it was so sweet of them to do it. They had to work out how they were going to play it; they said they hadn’t played it in ages, though I’d seen it on a setlist from their summer tour, hence requesting it. Chad came to the front with muted drums, and Jon jammed on the harmonica, even leading us in ‘If it doesn’t break…’ the way I’d heard him do on the live album, despite there only being a few of us, it was very cool. You can watch it here.

Then it was Meet&Greet time. I got a poster signed for somebody I was planning to send some things to, then handed my gifts to Jon. I showed him the local hot sauce and chocolate coffee beans I’d put in, which again he seemed extremely enthusiastic about, despite being less jetlagged than they had been in Amsterdam! Then I showed him the card we’d made; I flicked through it to show him all the messages at a glance, highlighting one or two to him, and he seemed really touched by it. Afterwards we headed back outside to wait for the show.

The venue was very small, and a little grimy, but in my experience that can make for a great show! I went to Drew’s side of the stage, but as the venue filled I got pushed towards the centre. I had a great conversation with one of the other VIPs, a guy originally from Nigeria, about the depth of Jon’s lyrics.

A band from Sheffield called the Alvarez Kings were supporting Switchfoot for the whole tour. They played good, catchy tunes with a lot of energy; their drummer is very good, the bassist lively, and they threw in a lot of nice harmonies, plus a bit of swearing!

Then it was Switchfoot time!!

They kicked off with the full electric version of Hello Hurricane, which they haven’t played much for some time.

Keeping the energy up, they went into Stars. Part way through, Jon climbed up onto the amps, then broke from the song to get the crowd singing The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond (appropriate as they’d spent the day there), thenย  jumped down and went into 500 Miles by The Proclaimers!! Well, that brought the house down!! Jon barely knew it at all, but belted out as much of it as he could remember before just descending into ‘DAH DADA DAH!’, the crowd laughing and jumping and filling in his singing, it was the best! ๐Ÿ˜€

Meant To Live followed, starting with an awesome intro jam on four guitars transitioning into the opening riff, which was passed around the band between their guitars, quite a dramatic effect. It was already getting sweaty, Jon pouring water over himself!

Then he went into the crowd for Bull and worked the crowd from a railing at the back, holding a hand to balance himself. It was a lot of fun.

Tim kicked off This Is Your Life with his powerful bass riff. Jon got everyone singing ‘Yeah!’ with him as a call and response, and then as the ending of the song repeats the title question he picked out individuals in the crowd to direct that question to each time he sang it.

Drew was improvising from start of Your Love Is A Song (YLIAS). The solo began with a duet between Jon’s harmonica and Drew’s guitar, then Jon left Drew to it, and he gave us a really epic solo; there were some precious smiles between the guys.

Jon introduced the band, and then Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST), saying ‘Let’s hear it for wounds!’ He did take my flag up on stage briefly, saying ‘Glasgow is where the light shines through’, and Josh got it back to me immediately. They started with a solo, throwing in complete pauses, which was awesome! Similarly to Budapest, Jon and Drew played a sort of solo trading game with Jon playing a phrase and seeing how Drew would respond to it, and like Budapest it seemed like he was cheekily throwing him some weird ones for him to play with! And he again got the crowd singing ‘Yeah-eah-eahhhh!’ in response. This song really is incredible live.

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Clearly having fun, Jon introduced Gone by throwing in the opening riff from Chem6A! There was much forgetting of lyrics; he got the crowd to help with the first verse, holding up the mic stand to us, grinning, before taking back over and having no trouble with the rest of the song! They rocked up the ending with a drum jump.

Bringing it back down, they played Only Hope, acoustic to begin with, with the band simply adding chilled ambience. They left out the second verse and went straight into a rocked up ending, and transitioned straight into I Won’t Let You Go, which was beautifully sung with evident feeling.

A short interlude of Shadow Proves… introduced LAIWTF, and then Jon got everyone ‘oreo’ing along. Then they played (If The) House Burns (Down Tonight), dedicating it to the firefighters who have saved their homes and communities many times, and to the feeling of driving away from your home not knowing if would be there when you return, and realising that the human souls there in the car with you are worth infinitely more than all you leave behind.

Dark Horses just rocked, and they ended with When We Come Alive.

For the encore they came back on to play Float; Drew seemed to start in the wrong key but quickly adjusted. And oh the joy – they brought the bubbles and disco ball with them!! This is the first time I’ve ever known them bring the fun stage effects they use in the States with them across the pond, and it was so much fun! And of course Jon crowd surfed, and thanked us for his first proper surf since arriving here ๐Ÿ˜€ Live It Well followed, introduced as a campfire song, Jon asked us to picture it. And they finished with Dare You To Move, which was just gorgeous.

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Then there was a proper encore, and they played Where I Belong. Jon took my banner, and this time actually threw it back to me at the end! ๐Ÿ™‚ I closed my eyes and just soaked in that end yell like I was just receiving it. At the end there were emotional thanks from Drew, and the crowd carried on singing long after the lights went up.

Overall the show felt like a truly joyful start to the tour. However the sound hadn’t been quite right; the guitars were turned up extremely loud compared to the rest, so they drowned out everything else when really going for it.

I managed to meet a couple of friends I’d only met previously online, one doing photography, and the other waiting for an aftershow, both lovely. The wait afterwards was cold!! I put on all my layers, plus the wet banner to dry it off and attempt to keep warm! But Jon did eventually come out to us. There was much joking with him about the temperature (‘You’re cold?! I’m from San Diego! This is Scotland cold!’ ‘No, this is Scotland tropical!’). He played Caroline (‘Southbound Train?’ ‘This one’s like Southbound Train… and also in the right key for my harmonica!’), Inheritance, 24 with its back story, and Your Love Is Strong. He said he’d seen a rainbow over Loch Lomond that morning and said it was like finding gold. He said these moments could be like gold, and I said that they are. He thanked us at the end, and we let him go.

My friend and I just made last bus back! We wished we’d had time for photos, it was so pretty.

We got back at 1:30am, in time for not nearly enough sleep before getting back on the early morning train back to Bristol ๐Ÿ˜›

Day 2, and I was already wondering what in the world possesses me to do this?! ๐Ÿ˜€

‘And I would take the train 500 miles, and I would take the train 500 more…’ ๐Ÿ˜€

(You can find my write ups of the spring Looking For Europe tour starting here)

Liturgy in the waves

Whilst Iโ€™ve been quiet on the blog, Iโ€™ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

Iโ€™ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time itโ€™s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. Iโ€™ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking Iโ€™m sure this isnโ€™t how itโ€™s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldnโ€™t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didnโ€™t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. Whatโ€™s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attemptedโ€ฆ and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole itโ€™s been going great.

Iโ€™ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. Iโ€™ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think itโ€™s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but itโ€™s been healing at times too, and Iโ€™ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St Davidโ€™s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; thereโ€™s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wetโ€ฆ In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichรฉd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

Itโ€™s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. Itโ€™s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! Itโ€™s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter thatโ€™s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe Iโ€™m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but Iโ€™ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitudeโ€ฆ ย and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each otherโ€™s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.