ROADSTORIES with Alan Frew (Retro)
Buongiorno! Come stai? Lol, I can hear some of you saying, “Oh, he’s away with that Italian again!”
During the Johnny Reid tour, as many of you know, I wrote my “Dear Canada” blogs consistently, all SIXTY of them, lol. Blog #4, has a subtitle,“Tour Dei Misteri Magici Italiani” basically meaning, The Italian Magical Mystery Tour. To say I condensed the story in blog number four would be a monstrous understatement. I merely wanted to impart to you, my love for Italy and a silly story about the ONLY gig we did there, in about the six weeks or so, of traipsing around.
So for this ROADSTORIES (Retro), let’s go back and see what we can find, shall we?
We started to venture out. “Fuck it! Let’s go to the beach! Fuck it let’s go to Rome. Fuck it! Let’s find a place to write and record a song..........Foggia was that place.
Similar to Quebec, the city and Quebec, the province, so it goes for Foggia and Foggia, a like-named city within the province of the same name.
The name "Foggia" might derive from the Latin "fovea", meaning "pit", referring to the pits where wheat was stored. The name's etymology remains uncertain however, as it could as well stem from “Phocaea”or most probably from the Medieval Greek word for "fire", which is "fotia", as according to legend, the original 11th century A.D. settlers were peasants, allegedly after having miraculously discovered there, a panel portraying the Madonna, on which three flames burnt.
Even back then it seems, Jesus & The Madonna we’re showing up on panels, trees, dog’s ears and slices of toast!
I rented a van and we booked a small studio room to just fire up some instruments and jam out potential songs. Life had gotten hilarious. By this time we were beginning to look like beach-bums, all tanned-up and scruffy. Even my drummer Chris, who’s normal flesh tone is something between a dead guy and a vampire had this golden colour going on. When back in Panni on the top of the mountain, there was no water for recreation, like the ocean or a lake, nor even a stream. Just scorching sun and dusty sand. The beach therefore, was a welcomed respite from being trapped up there with nothing to do except eat, drink and sleep. As exercise, I had started hiking up to the very peak of the mountain almost daily in order to stay in shape and I must admit that it was while up there, alone one morning, as the sun was just raising its head above the horizon, that I felt more at peace, than at any other time in my life. Yes, we were sort of, trapped there. Yes, the cost of it all had gotten so out of hand that Tony couldn’t handle it and I was now being pulled into help finance something that I had no part in creating. He had come to me, he had wanted this to happen and now I had a non-functioning band on my hands...in Italy!!
All that melted away however, as I stared out through the majestic silence, across a landscape of such beauty that I hadn’t a single care in the world.
My being there was like the purest kind of “singularity” with the nature and the history of it all, and I was perfectly happy. I imagined a voice saying, “So what do you think?” I turned to find Spartacus sitting beside me. “It’s glorious,” I would say. He would smile softly, “Isn’t it though?” And that’s the moment I fell in love with Italy.
So we gathered in the studio and started hammering something out. For the life of me don’t ask me what it was but it was something, and it was musical, and it was a welcomed distraction from the day-to-day of being unwitting “tourists,” as opposed to working musicians.
After we finished at the studio I decided to take the guys for dinner. That’s not difficult in Italy and we ended up in a simple but pretty little restaurant ordering pastas and pizzas etc. Now this is almost 20 years ago and the “internet” was not just something that you had at your fingertips on a phone. No, this was still Internet Café time whereby one had to go to a place like a Starbucks, purchase a coffee and purchase time on a computer hooked up to the internet. It’s how we kept in touch with home.
Chris, our newly-tanned drummer was a little more obsessed with being on a computer than the rest of us were and every chance he got he would say, “Just popping into the the Café.” And off he would go. So after he ordered his food he did just that, telling me that he would be right back. I thought nothing of it until everyone’s food arrived and his sat there untouched, with no sign of him. After about 15 minutes or so the Maître d’ approached me saying, “Signore, il tuo batterista è con la polizia!”.... “Your drummer...polizia! polizia!” I jumped up immediately and headed for the door. What I witnessed was like something out of a DeNiro or Pacino movie. There before me, across the street, was Chris, face-down, on the sidewalk. A police officer was holding an uzi machine gun to the back of his head while his boot was placed between his shoulder blades. Two more officers ( one female ) were keeping watch around them while a fourth was rummaging through Chris’s knapsack and dumping anything of nonconcern on the ground around him. Chris raised his head up and to this day I will never forget the look of sheer and utter terror on his face. His tan had suddenly vanished. He was ashen. “Alan! What the fuck?” he got that out before the gun was prodded into the back of his head signifying,“Shut up! Head down!” My natural reaction was to cross the street and address these people. I didn’t get too far before the female police officer pointed her hand-gun at my head saying, “Stop!” as she motioned with her hand for me to get back to where I came from.
A gun in your face will help you follow instructions quite readily and so go back I did. She lowered her gun as her partner continued to rummage through all of Chris’s belongings including his pockets. Then within a blink of an eye, they sort of “shrugged” jumped into their vehicle and sped off like nothing had happened.
I crossed the street with the guys as we helped him up and helped pick up his stuff. “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” he yelled. I must admit we were all dumbfounded.
We got him back to the restaurant and got a couple of beers for him. He was shaking still and rightly so. I know when she pointed her gun at me my sphincter did a little “Cha-Cha” dance.
We sat around chatting, picking at our food trying to make sense of it all when one of the waiters came to us with the explanation in English. He had gone out and asked around and here is what had happened.
Ever since I have known Chris, he likes to wear a baseball cap. It’s a fixture with him. Now I don’t know about 2018 Foggia but twenty years ago, I KNOW for sure that baseball caps were not common attire. I know this because a) I never saw any and because b) it was the key to what had happened to Chris. No, they didn’t do that to him as punishment for wearing a cap but because he wore a cap, he became a suspect in a crime. They say,“Timing is everything huh?” Well for the record books, so do I. For you see, just as Chris was finishing up his internet conversation at the Internet Café in his unusual-for-around-these-parts, baseball cap, a dude in a very similar baseball cap, was robbing a small shop of money and cigarettes. And just as Chris stepped out onto the street, the 911 call had been placed by the shop owner. The rest as they say....... “was timing.”
BOOM! They brought him down faster than a lion on a baby gazelle. What a freaky coincidence. The type of coincidence of course that under different circumstances could escalate into something far worse. As it was, we were left shaken up, especially Chris, but overal none-the-worse-for-wear. One thing that struck me was the fact that had they just whisked him away what a nightmare that would have been. We would have had no idea where to begin. Of course we would have reported him missing at the nearest police station but trust me, it would have been a long haul for there are several different levels of police in Italy, it’s really quite convoluted and complicated, especially to foreigners and we would probably just have walked into a small local station and reported a Canadian lad missing. After that who knows what we would have done. The power of smart phones today has certainly changed the landscape of incidents like this one. From that moment on, I had everyone carry the phone number for the Canadian Consulate in their wallets.
There are lots of stories from that Italian trip and there are lots, lots, more from my life on the road. Come join me. ~ Alan