The Amadeus Queen, Basel – Amsterdam
About 3 years ago I was at Costa Del Folk in Portugal and chatting with a bloke I hsdn’t previously met. We did the standard “How many of these events have you been to” exchange and he told me this was his first but that he had been on the Show of Hands Rhine Cruise, organised by the same people who run Costa Del Folk. I expressed surprise and said it had struck me as being incredibly expensive. He said it had been ruinously expensive, absolutely bloody brilliant and he didn’t regret a penny of it. So fast forward 5 months and on my wedding anniversary in drops an email advertising a 7-day Rhine Cruise hosted by Fairport Convention. I saw this as God’s way of telling me to book. Along came Covid and it got postponed for a year. At some point they advertised a similar cruise hosted by Richard Thompson but it was even more expensive and I recognised that my GLW is not a major RT fan. I was thinking Fairport were big enough and could play in enough splinter groups to provide 6 nights of entertainment. None of the 2021 cruised actually happened and I was again offered to hold our booking until June 2022 with Fairport hosting from Amsterdam to Basel. But now I notice the previous week from Basel to Amsterdam features RT for 3 nights with support from 2 excellent bands, Broom Bezzums and the mighty Track Dogs both of who we have seen and enjoyed several times at Costa Del Folk. As regards the extra money I told myself that we hadn’t spent a lot over the pandemic and this would be our first holiday for 3 years. And so it came to pass: we boarded the Amadeus Queen on Tues 14th June and cruised on the Rhine and Moselle arriving in time to spend the last full day in Amsterdam. I had been getting the feeling that it hadn’t sold that well. It transpired that the initial interest had been from the US and that had pulled out in droves once the Ukraine invasion started. As a result our cruise was half full but with a full complement of crew. Not good for the organisers who had chartered the ship for 2 weeks but great for the punters. The cruise itself was great, comfortable, on-time, and the bar prices were OK considering we were a captive audience, We did an excursion every day which kept us busy. We ate a cooked breakfast, a 4 course lunch and a 5 course dinner every day and after about day 3 found ourselves getting peckish in mid afternoon. Our fellow passengers were good company and were all there to enjoy the evening concerts. I was a tad disappointed when it was announced a few weeks earlier that RT would join the cruise for the latter part and play consecutively for the last 3 nights. I also thought he would play the advertised 1 hour whereas the support bands had gone well over time every night. Maybe that news had reached RT because he played 75 minutes on his first night including the last 15 with his wife Zara. Songs included Gensis Hall, Dimming of the Day, Bright Lights Tonight, Wall of death. He thanked us at the end and said he hoped we’d enjoyed it the set as he’d be doing it all again tomorrow. Then a quick laugh and an assurance of no repeats throughout the week. My first thought was he has the back catalogue to allow that but I then thought that having written and recorded a stack of songs is one thing but being able to perform adequately is another thing altogether. I watched him close up all 3 nights. He was clearly nervous at the first show, forgot a few words and even made a few guitar errors but he visibly relaxed as the shows progressed.
I was front row centre for his 2nd night which was terrific including I Misunderstood, Valerie, Persuasion, Beeswing, Crocodile Tears, Vincent Black Lightning, Who Knows Where the Time Goes?. Zara joined in from Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair onwards. The US-based RT superfan beside me had left a polite note asking for Ghost of You Walks and it duly appeared on the list and received a glorious performance from RT, probably the highlight of a very high quality set.
The final night was billed as RT plus special guests. I had assumed this would be collaborations with various members of the support bands but one of my fellow passengers pointed out that as we’d be moored in Amsterdam all day, Fairport were almost certainly in town waiting to board the following day. Not wishing to be accused of seat-hogging I went for a more distant approach, a whole 3 rows back to enjoy this absolutely wonderful final show of a most excellent week. RT told us he’d split the show into 2. The first set included Ghosts in the Wind, Bathsheba Smiles, and the pandemic theme song Keep Your Distance plus some rarer gems in Hamlet, and The Great Valerio . After a 15m break RT and Zara were joined by special guests Dave “got the T-shirt” Pegg & Simon Nicol to perform 8 songs including a bunch from Full House. Despite genuine claims of no rehearsal they sounded fantastic. The encore was an unexpected cover of “I’m Down” normally associated with a fab Merseyside quartet. RT enlisted Robbie K. Jones from the Track Dogs to provide the backbeat. Here’s the setlist for you RT factfans:-
Hand of Kindness
Doctor of Physick
Wall of Death
Now Be Thankful
Poor Will & the Jolly Hangman
What did I learn? Well, I noticed he plays predominantly in Drop-D. He can still sing powerfully and can reach the top notes. He has a new soundman as longtime techie Simon Tassano has retired. His replacement Tristan did a great job and when I chatted to him he came across as a polite, humble and approachable young man, somewhat in contrast to my sole encounter with his predecessor. As you might expect RT kept himself fairly distant but the punters respected his privacy and requests for signings were granted by appointment.
I have 2 friends who had booked on the Fairport cruise and I knew they would be insanely jealous that I got to see the Full House set, because although Fairport were getting on the boat the following day (Tuesday), RT was flying off presumably to prepare for Glastonbury. However on Friday his FB announced that he had tested +ve for Covid on Wednesday after 2 years of escaping it and would therefore have to cancel his Glastonbury performance. So where did he get that from, I ask myself. And bear in mind the Fairport Cruise is Sold Out. My spies tell me that Simon was nowhere to be seen yesterday.
Only 80 of us, mostly Brits but maybe 10% from USA. A few who’d come to see one or other of the support bands. The overwhelming majority had never been to Costa Del Folk and in many cases had never even heard of it. Everyone was well behaved and it made for an enjoyable atmosphere.
It made me think..
What would have happened it RT had contracted Covid either just before or during the Cruise? Presumably the organisers are insured for that scenario but there would have been 80 punters expressing their displeasure and rightly pointing out that he was the reason we are all there. If we were 4 days in and it suddenly became clear his 3 nights weren’t going to happen that could have been tricky all round. Anyway, back to the plot. I haven’t see RT since Oct 2017 when his performance was marred by an unappetising sound mix. I’m pleased to report that he performed very well and I was very happy to witness it.