In the chronicles of Power Quest 2017 was a year that stands out more than any other really. A year of unexpected opportunities that we thought had long since passed us by. The expression ‘good things come to those who wait’ was never more apt.
I’m actually going to start this story at the end of the year. I know, I know but please bear with me as it will make some sense as you read on.
Towards the end of 2017 Paul called me to let me know that he had decided to leave the band after the Hard Rock Hell show in Birmingham in March 2018. I wasn’t surprised as we had already had a few discussions along these lines. In fact we had the exact same discussion in late 2016/early 2017 as well. On that occasion I had convinced Paul that he really didn’t want to miss the trips to Sweden, Japan and USA as those were the dreams we had shared for so many years. I said at the time as well that if he felt the same way after these trips then of course I would support whatever decision he decided to make. There was also the small matter of a new album on the horizon as well which of course ended up being Paul’s final recording with the band and what a stellar job he did there.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for Paul to find the time to come down from Glasgow to Derby for rehearsals given that he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his family. I totally understood where he was coming from and having talked him out of leaving once I didn’t feel that I would be acting as a true friend by doing down that road again.
Meanwhile back in April/May 2017 we had started the process of recording the album that would become known as “Sixth Dimension”. We were recording in London so again lots of travelling for Paul. We found a weekend that worked for all parties and he duly came down. He also had to have his interview at the American embassy for our work visa applications. A very busy 3 days lay ahead for the big man. I was in the studio with him whilst he was recording his parts and we stayed at a hotel near Canary Wharf. Some of you may have seen the Facebook live broadcast we did from the hotel room.
Over the years I shared many a hotel room with Paul both in the UK and around the world and we always had so much fun, often in the company of the irrepressible Rich Smith as well. That’s three mighty snorers in the same room and it was often a race to get to sleep as it was bad news if we didn’t get to sleep first. Paul was particularly good at falling asleep really quickly (usually with his headphones in and the music bleeding out to compliment his snoring haha) and even better at not being able to get up very easily in the morning. I think I could write an essay just on that subject…..hotels we have known over the years ☺
Paul was on fine form in the studio and playing really well. Alessio Garavello, who was producing the album, and myself were suitably impressed at the speed he was getting through the work load but also with the quality of the bass lines he was playing. Paul loved working with other people around him as he was always offering ideas or looking for advice and suggestions as to how a particular part could be played. It was a really productive way of working without doubt. Of course we did not know at the time that it would be the last record Paul would make with PQ but we were all so thrilled with the end product that it stands as a fitting legacy for Paul along with the Blood Alliance album he played on back in 2011 and the Face the Raven EP in 2016.
Not long after completing the album we had a club show in Portsmouth and SOS Festival in Manchester in the diary. Unfortunately Paul wasn’t able to make it down for these shows so the next time we would meet would be for the rehearsals for the appearance at Sabaton Open Air Festival in Sweden in mid August. Missing these shows had come up in the conversation we had a few months earlier and I really wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss any of the major events we had that year. If a club show had to be missed then that was absolutely fine with me.
The trip to Sweden was the first festival Power Quest had played overseas since PPM Festival in Belgium in 2012 so to say we were all looking forward to it is somewhat of an understatement, It turned out to be a really well organized event and we were treated like Kings in all honesty. Nothing was too much trouble for them which was amazing considering we were and are hardly the biggest band in the world haha! We shared the bill with such names as Hammerfall and Freedom Call and even Steve Harris from Iron Maiden was there with his other band British Lion. It was wonderful to bump into so many old friends like Bill Hudson (NorthTale, UDO, Trans Siberian Orchestra) and Tommy Johansson (Sabaton/Majestica) as well. It was quite funny really because we had been friends with the guys in Freedom Call since we toured with them in 2012 and they were the very first people we met when we arrived at the hotel. Later that weekend as we were all preparing to leave and head home we saw the FC guys again and said “See you next time….in Tokyo” as they were headlining the festival we were playing there. There will be more on that in due course.
It was a wonderful show in Sweden. We were celebrating the 15th anniversary of our debut album “Wings of Forever” by playing it in its entirety as a world exclusive, never to be seen again. Even our place on the bill was awesome as half way through our performance the sun began to set and by the time we had finished it was dark out front with the place lit up by mobile phones and the floodlighting. It was truly a memory for the ages right there.
We returned to the UK and we had just about two weeks to prepare and get everything ready for what was going to be the most exciting couple of weeks. So after rehearsing at Abbey Lane Studios in Derby for a couple of days we took the National Express coach to Heathrow airport ready to catch out flight bound for Tokyo, Japan! Rich and Paul actually drove down as they needed to have the car available to get back to Derby once we were back from the second leg of this incredible mission. Paul’s travelling experience came in handy here as he was the only one of us who had ever done a long haul flight previously. The rest of us had no idea what to expect and it was certainly an eye opening experience that’s for sure. We had a brief stop over in Seoul for a few hours, which gave me and Rich the time to top up the nicotine levels before we undertook the last leg of the journey.
Arriving in Japan the first thing that struck us was the heat and humidity. It was quite a shock to the system to be honest. Those of you who know me well realize that really hot weather doesn’t particularly agree with me and I think it was a bit of battle for most of us but it was all far outweighed by the excitement of having made it to Japan. We played 3 shows there, two in Tokyo and one in Osaka. It was quite a crazy schedule as we played the day after we landed and then had a flight back to the UK the day after the last show as well which didn’t really leave time for any tourist type activities unfortunately. We did get to ride on the Bullet Train from Tokyo to Osaka which was a real thrill and something that I’d wanted to do but had never had the opportunity previously. It actually is possible for trains to run exactly on time, contrary to our experiences here in the UK.
Paul really soaked up the culture and we enjoyed the local cuisine and of course we had to find somewhere that we could have a curry too. Paul actually made friends with one of the guys working in the restaurant and invited him along to the show the following day. They remained in touch after that as well which shows again what a friendly and easy-going chap Paul was. It didn’t matter where in the world he went, this was always the case in my experience.
We were looked after very well by Yama, Meg and all the guys involved in Evoken Festival. Nothing was ever too much trouble for them and we all appreciated the fact that they had given us the opportunity to visit Japan. Wonderful hotels, top notch transport and great company. What more can you want or need? I should also thank Ken and Yukko Saito who acted as our guides when we had some free time and took us to Tokyo City Centre and showed us around and took us for dinner. Happy days!
From what I recall, the flight back from Japan to the UK was somewhat more challenging. Maybe because this time we knew what was coming but after about 4 hours I was starting to get restless and fidgety and this pretty much lasted the whole flight. The seating arrangements meant I was isolated from the rest of the guys but it seemed like everyone was having fun. Paul and Andy K were amusing themselves with trying to guess what some of the inflight food actually was and coming up with alternative names for some things.
When we arrived back at Heathrow we said farewell to Glyn and Andy as they had joined the band too late to make the next leg of the journey which was to play at PPUSA Festival in Atlanta. So Paul, Rich, Ash and myself had a night in a hotel at the airport before boarding our flight to Atlanta the following day. Filling in for Andy and Glyn on this occasion were Bill Hudson and Chris Petersen and we are grateful to this day for the hard work they put in to make sure that the show would go on successfully.
The flight itself seemed relatively short in comparison to the trek to Japan, which was good news of course. As we came to land in Atlanta Paul reminded me that we still had a few shirts from Japan in the luggage and we needed to declare these at customs. This was another example of his travelling experience coming to the fore at an important time. We did end up getting a bit of an interrogation at customs but when they realized we only had 17 shirts they sent us on our way with a smile saying that this really wasn’t anything to be concerned about.
We were picked up by the festival organisers in a luxurious bus fitted with all the mod cons and this took us to our hotel where we were met by my good friend and promoter of the event Nathan Block. Once we had checked into the fantastic hotel (complete with pool) Nathan took us out for a fabulous dinner that evening. It was almost as hot and humid in Atlanta as it had been in Japan so again it was a bit of battle on that side of things but a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things given that for most of us it was our first venture onto US soil.
The following day was the first of the four days that make up the PPUSA event. We were actually the first band on Day 1 so it was a real opportunity to go out there and make an early impression. This was no ordinary show of course. As I mentioned a little earlier, we had two stand in guitarists for this show in Bill Hudson and Chris Petersen but we had no time to rehearse with them at all other than an unplugged run through backstage before the show. Chris had been in Japan with his band Cellador at the same time we were there so there just wasn’t room in the schedule for anything other than the show. First US show, two stand in guitarists and no rehearsals? It can’t end well surely?
Fortunately for all concerned someone must have been smiling on us somewhere that day as the show was wonderful. Everyone clicked into gear and gelled from the get go and it seemed that no sooner had we started then we had to finish. I remember Paul making good use of the drum riser during this show and at least a couple of flying leaps were detected from my side of the stage haha! I also remember us all being on such a high backstage after the adrenalin of the whole thing, probably more so than any other occasion.
We were extremely fortunate in that we were able to stay in Atlanta for the whole 4 days of the festival, which meant we had a chance to hang out as well, watch the other bands and chat to all the amazing people there. There were also a few opportunities to look around the city and one such thing was going to watch a baseball game for the first time. It was certainly an interesting experience. Ash and Alessio were particularly entering into the spirit of things and I could tell Paul was enjoying it too. Paul turned to me at one point and said “I’m glad someone here knows the rules of this game”. It was interesting to see the difference between how sports like baseball are presented compared to something like cricket.
Each night there was a huge party in the courtyard of one of the hotels near the venue once the bands had finished for the day. It was at one of these that Paul really saved my bacon. Let’s just say that I over indulged to the extent that I couldn’t walk in a straight line and my vision had gone somewhat blurry. I’d already tried to find my way through the crowds once and that had been an unmitigated disaster to be fair. On this occasion, Paul happened to be sat right next to me and noticed I was in a bad way and he helped me through the crowds to the sanctuary of the roadside. It was like the parting of the Red Sea as he guided me through the assembled throng of festival fans. I’m not sure I would have made it out in one piece if it was not for Paul’s assistance. He sat me down, rolled me a cigarette and chatted to me for about 10 minutes to make sure I was ok and fit enough to find my way back to the hotel. That walk in itself turned into another saga, but I’ll save that one for another time.
We had so much fun hanging out with the fans in Atlanta, many of whom had travelled from all over the world to attend what is clearly one of the most well organized and community orientated events in the whole touring calendar. I was thrilled to be able to share the experience with the guys and Paul especially as we had talked about this type of thing for most of the time we were friends.
A huge thank you to Nathan Block and Milton Mendonca for making this trip possible for us and to Bill and Chris for enabling us to perform by standing in for Andy and Glyn. It meant the world to us all, a dream come true if you will, and I know Paul especially appreciated every single thing about this trip.
A major storm was brewing down in Florida a couple of days before we were due to leave, such that people were being evacuated from there. Bill Hudson was caught up in this and his wife had to drive up to Atlanta to meet us. Fortunately for us our flights were still on track but I think if we had left it a day later then there may well have been issues there. As we flew out of Atlanta it was quite crazy to think that in the space of a week we had flown from London to Japan and back again and immediately flown from London to Atlanta and back. Talk about cramming as much into a window of time as possible.
Landing back in good old Blighty was quite a strange experience. Once we had landed it was quite hard to fathom exactly what we had done for the past couple of weeks. I guess the thrill of something special that you never thought would happen really hit us all at that point as Paul and Rich headed for Derby and Ash and myself headed home to Southampton.
We had about a month to get back to reality before the next item on the agenda which was a UK tour as special guests of my old mates and former bandmates Dragonforce. There were 11 shows up and down the UK, from Glasgow to Dover. This was split up into 2 sections with a few days break in between and in effect was the northern shows first and then the southern shows. On this occasion Paul was able to do the first run of dates which included Glasgow, Newcastle, York, Sheffield and Manchester but work commitments prevented him being able to participate in the second leg. His schedule was so tight here that he had to run to catch a train home pretty much as soon as we had finished our set. A very good job that the evening ran to time to be honest.
While we were in Newcastle, Paul and Ash took the opportunity to visit the Newcastle United football ground for a guided tour. Ash is a big Newcastle fan. I dropped them off at the ground and then wandered around and grabbed some coffee whilst they were otherwise engaged. I remember in York we all had a Yorkshire Pudding wrap with a roast dinner inside. That was awesome and I remember trying to eat that without wearing it at the same time haha!
The shows on the DF run were all sold out and it was a thrill to play with those guys again after almost 20 years for me. I think it was something the fans had been wanting to see for years so it was nice that the stars aligned for this one.
Just a few days after this run of shows we were out again for what would be Paul’s last tour with the band. This time a few headline UK shows taking in Newcastle, Grimsby, Cardiff and London. Another great run of shows culminating in a fantastic night in London at our spiritual home, Camden Underworld. As always lots of laughs and good times on the road and hanging out into the small hours at our overnight stays which, as always, were powered by Travel Lodge (other hotel chains are available of course haha!)
As we headed our respective ways home after this UK tour, we didn’t know for certain that this would be the last one we would do together. Of course it wasn’t the last time we played with Paul. This would be at HRH Metal Festival in Birmingham in early 2018 as I mentioned earlier on.
When the band re-activated in 2016 I don’t think any of us would have thought that by the end of the following year we would have visited Sweden, Japan and the US and undertaken a tour with Dragonforce. For a band that was and is almost entirely self financed we made the most of these chances that came along and at the same time fulfilled some dreams that were over 25 years in the making if not a bit longer.
I have so many wonderful memories over the years with Power Quest that will stay with me forever but this particular year, 2017, was without doubt the pinnacle and I think will remain that way no matter what we do in the future. Now that Paul is no longer with us I will treasure these memories even more than I already did and this is what prompted me to put pen to paper now and write these words about our adventures together.
I just happened to re-read the thanks list Paul had written in the Sixth Dimension album booklet again yesterday and noticed that he had thanked me for making the dreams real. It all seems somehow so poignant now given what has happened but it was my pleasure my old friend and I’m so glad that I got to share these incredible times with you. Times that, no matter what the future brings, will remain with me forever as the very best of times.
You made your mark big fella. You touched people’s lives with your music but more so with your character and the way you had with people. From Japan to the US and everywhere in between there are fans and friends who will recall the time they spent with you with great affection and respect.
Whatever your beliefs are, please remember my friend Paul Wilson Finnie and think kindly of him. He was the very best of men and a true legend. The PQ legend.
August 30th 2019