The unforgettable ‘Billies Tour of Belgium

After a hectic schedule in March 1986 and a few gigs in early April, on Thurs 17th April we played Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues and finishing at 3am, we immediately packed up the VW Van and headed for the Channel en route to Brussels for the ‘Billies Belgium tour.

We had a couple of contacts there, Bernard and Manu, who organised five dates for us, four in Brussels, including Le Clef De Verre, Ultime Atom and The Blue Guitar, and the Piano Bar in Namur.

Stix on the Billies Belgium tour

We arrived at the venue for our first gig ready for the soundcheck but something was missing – the P.A.! When one of the organisers asked us “Whats a P.A.?” we had to explain; “its a mixing desk, amplifier, microphones, stands, speakers and a load of leads”. That evening we dashed around to various Brussels music shops looking for one to hire. All that was available was a huge Soundcraft 64 channel desk and all we needed was four channels for four microphones. It hardly fitted into the van and we had to learn pretty quickly how to set it up.

Bill on the Billies tour of Belgium

Oddly we seemed to be mainly booked into posh Jazz clubs. We’d had a young Belgian fan in London, Tiny Tim, and he organised his friends in Brussels to attend every gig. So his mates, our main fan-base there, happened to be a crowd mainly apolitical Skinheads who turned up every night. In the meantime we were lucky to discover the delights of Belgian chip stands with their myriad sauces and, of course, the Belgian bars with their particularly strong and sweet beers, Duval, Mort Subite, Chimay, Rochefort.

It was around the time of the 1986 European cup and only a year after the Heysel stadium disaster, brought about by English football hooligans, so the Brits were still being looked upon with distain. There was this English football song in the charts ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole, we are the champions’ which seemed to follow us where ever we went.

As an added bonus to the tour, we got to see James Brown on the 21st April, our night off, at the Vorst Nationaal in Brussels.

On the last night, one of our skinhead fans decided to swing on the huge chandelier in the centre of the hall where we were playing. The whole thing crashed down along with half the ceiling, the lights went out, we finished the set in the dark, quickly packed up our gear and headed for the port of Zeebrugge. The following month we’d be off to France again, but the Belgian tour will remain an unforgettable experience and a landmark event in Forest Hill Billies’ history.


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