17 Jun, 2014 Field Of Dreams
There is a field in Belgium that lies silent and rain sodden for much of the year round. Otherwise it is fairly nondescript with no particular features to make it any different from the patchwork of brown and green earth that covers the surrounding countryside. This particular patch of ground is however more than a little special within the history Simple Minds.
Situated 30k from Brussels, the aforementioned field borders a small village belonging to the municipality of Rotselaar. It is however annually transformed – rather incredibly so – out of it’s tranquil existence, and into the site of the massive Rock Werchter Festival. For that reason, and thanks to the volume of accompanying memories and experiences – both distant and fresh – this site could almost be named by Simple Minds as our “Field Of Dreams.”
I remember with great clarity the first time we made the journey that takes you into the backstage entrance that is reserved for the festival’s artists and organisers. It was 1983 and Simple Minds had never played at any event that could hold an audience of upwards of 60,000. The previous day’s gig in Tourhout (also Belgium) was in itself a daunting experience in terms of magnitude, but Werchter seemed altogether on a bigger scale. Despite the overnight confidence that had been instilled – we had gone down an absolute storm in Torhout, featuring on a bill alongside U2 and Peter Gabriel. Regardless, I felt so nervous on arrival at Werchter that I am sure I was shaking more than the small leaves that covered the trees marking the perimeter of the festival site.
Ah, but at least the breeze kept us cool as we awaited our appointed performance time. It also offered some respite from the soaring heat of that entire weekend. To be honest, I felt afterwards that as glorious as our Werchter debut may have been, we had played as if our lives depended on it and again were met with a sensational reaction after all. But we had not quite reached the performance level of the previous day in Torhout in my opinion. Perhaps we had given too much of ourselves there? Likewise, perhaps performing in intense heat, then staying up all night afterwards, had taken too much out of me in particular. But hey, we celebrated afterwards in the bar of the Sheraton Brussels, all the same. For having now “delivered” in front of two huge audiences, we were convinced that our music was more than able to succeed at any kind of live event, no matter the scale. What was there not to celebrate in that? Werchter had been great to us after all, beyond our dreams in truth.
Only 12 months later we returned to the same site, this time we were to fulfill the headlining role on a Werchter bill that featured our idol, (No other word for it.) Lou Reed. By that time we were feeling very comfortable performing in front of huge festival audiences, and to many onlookers it was obvious that Simple Minds had grown so much in stature since our performances of the previous summer. Waterfront had recently become our signature intro song, and if ever a tune was designed for the festival situation, this was surely it.
The chance to headline the festival for a second time came only two years later, following a period of 24 months that had seen our band become known the world over. While that may have been so, we never forgot the fact that it was Werchter that gave us the chance to launch ourselves on the bigger scale as a live act. Even currently we still feel humbled by the opportunity and encouragement that the audience at Werchter, and indeed promoter Herman Schueremans gave us back in those formative days.
Since then and by my estimation, we have played in one form or another at Werchter a further 4 times, making it seven in total. Amazingly that number is due to increase the weekend after next when we return for an eighth performance, and where none other than the Rolling Stones themselves will be headlining the festival.
If you had told me as teenager in Glasgow, walking to school with my Rolling Stones albums under my arms, that our little band would one day have the chance to play alongside the Stones, as we have already done on two occasions, I would have told you that you were an bigger dreamer than me. Likewise, if you had told me backstage at Werchter in ’83, that over 30 years later we would be preparing to once again walk on with nothing but our music, our energy, and our desire to entertain and uplift 60,000 plus people. I would have been dumbfounded as to how it could be possible?
But dreams can pan out, just as some places do seem to have a way of bringing out the best in us. For those reasons then, Werchter is very much our own Field Of Dreams.