This week I return to Tenerife for a concert. Remember that I love to read your comments so feel free to comment in the box below this post.
After we’d arrived and as we climbed on board the bus to the hotel, I caught the eye of Andrew Busher and we nodded in silent, slightly disturbed agreement. It was over twenty years ago that we had arrived at a somewhat more dilapidated version of Tenerife airport. We had felt much more exhausted and looked and smelt rather bad. Today we had come from Gatwick on an unusually civilized, midday flight with the Monteverdi Choir. We would also have an evening off to sample the delights of the local cuisine and time for a bus trip to the beach for a seafood lunch – sometimes you have to love this job!
Some twenty years ago, Andy and I had arrived from America, but we’d endured the journey from hell to get there…….We’d been on a long tour with the a cappella group, The Swingle Singers. We always did an Easter and Christmas tour to the States as part of the Columbia Artists Concert Series. The tours would take us across the whole of the United States, to venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to a high school gymnasium in the middle of North Dakota. They involved long hours spent traveling on our private greyhound bus as we weaved our way across that enormous country. We took with us a large amount of sound equipment, all housed in heavy, silver and black metal flight cases. Every afternoon we would arrive at the venue and the whole group would unload the flight cases and help our engineer to set up the sound system. After the concert, we would change from our stage costumes into our jeans and pack up and load the bus before we could head wearily to our motel bed. I was a wiz at winding the long electric cables (as Andrew Cleyndert will testify in my article on the album recording day) and to this day I am a very useful addition to a barge holiday!
The original plan was to tour for four weeks, then take the Easter weekend as a holiday – either in America or some members would fly home to see their families. Then we would continue on the tour for another three weeks. At the end of the previous year, we received a last minute request to sing the vocal parts in a concert of the Berio Sinfonia with the Tenerife Symphony. This fell smack bang in the Easter period which we had allocated for the break. We all discussed what we should do and decided that we could fly the partners out to Tenerife and combine a little holiday in the sun with the concert.
We had to fly to Tenerife via Madrid but we started our journey with an early flight from Dallas to New York. We arrived at 6am for the first flight and all went well. When we arrived in New York, we had to collect all our luggage as we had to complete customs for the sound equipment before we could re-check it in. We were told the plane to Madrid was delayed by a few hours, which might jeopardise our connection. Luckily, we managed to change airlines and get an earlier flight. This meant an epic journey with trolleys of heavy equipment and nine suitcases along the service road from one terminal to another. (It would have been impossible to transport the flight cases on the shuttle without the trolleys.)
We eventually managed to get to the other terminal and despite many kerbs and much tired banter and laughter, we got our customs forms sorted and boarded the flight. “Oh dear” exclaimed one of the sopranos as she watched the man driving the luggage buggy (which was piled high with our flight cases) fail to brake in time. As if in slow motion, he collided with the plane. After a very long wait, the stewardess announced that we would all have to disembark and wait for another plane to be located. This spelled disaster for our Spanish connection.
Finally, we boarded the new plane and set off, not knowing what would happen in Madrid. Jet-lagged and rather grumpy, we got off the plane and walked into a scene of chaos. Apparently, the cleaners in Madrid had decided to go on strike and we had arrived quite a few days into it. Rubbish, drifts of dust and detritus had accumulated in every corner. The cafes and bars had stopped serving, so we couldn’t get anything to eat or drink and the toilets were indescribable. When we managed to pick our way through the rubbish to the Iberia help desk to try to get another flight to Tenerife, we were informed that every flight was full because of Easter. Worse than that, because we had changed airlines, Iberia had no responsibility to put us up in a hotel.
We were already so jet lagged and beyond tired that it was hard not to break down in tears. All our partners were waiting in Tenerife for us – not to mention the Symphony Orchestra we were booked to sing with as soloists. It seemed hopeless. The only chink of hope they could offer, was for us to wait at the gates for the departing flights to Tenerife and hope somebody wouldn’t turn up. Perhaps we could get a last minute standby place? For nine people?….I think not.
As well as the airport being very hot with the air thick with dust, there was also nowhere to lie down – the floor was filthy and we had been warned that the rubbish situation meant that there were now a problem with rats!
A few hours later we waited hopefully at the gate and just as it closed the stewardess told us there was room for two people. We decided that our musical director Jonathan Rathbone and our sound engineer, John Milner should go. They could talk to the conductor about tempos and answer any musical questions and John could sort out the technical requirements. We waved them off hoping that we would be reunited soon. Many hours later, after a couple of flights had left we were losing hope. After much banter and charming of the Iberia staff, they took pity on us and closed the flight ten minutes early and we all piled on, mightily relieved to leave that filthy place.
These were the days where smoking was allowed and unfortunately, to finish off our journey, we were all sitting in the back rows – next to the chain smoking Spanish stewards. We were joyously greeted at the arrivals gate by our partners, who’d come to the airport on our bus. My boyfriend declared when we were alone that, although it was good to see me, I had smelled and looked BAD. A sort of “trampy ashtray” was how he described me.
Nowadays both Madrid and Tenerife airport are modern temples of glass and marble – a tribute to Spanish design. As Andy and I boarded the bus, we were both pondering the twenty-some years that had passed since the last time we arrived in the Canary Islands: how life had changed and the many concerts we had sung together in the intervening years.
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