Tour Diary: St. Louis (US / Day 2)

Ranking Cheese Doodle: High Valley Orchard Spicy Cheese Nuggets. They’re all right. They’re small, like a toddler’s kidney.

Texture: Stale styrofoam

Flavor: The flavor is just like the pizza flavor Combos but really spicy. They inflamed my wretched mouth (see previous post) to such an extent I think they will remain uneaten as well.

Idiocy from the Van: Egregious Philbin

We drove the four hours from Davenport to St. Louis the night before and still got in around 10:00. We were staying at a hotel right near the arch. A hotel whose scratched hallways and undusted chandeliers echoed with the laughter and sighs of a more beautiful, elegant era. Like say 2006. The employees dragging through their assigned duties like the crew of the Titanic if it had taken 6 years to sink rather than 2 hours and 40 minutes. Case in point: The boxer shorts and washcloth crumpled on the floor by the ice machine that weren’t removed for almost 24 hours. I could almost deal with the shorts, as they were flannel and flannel seems benign, but it was the washcloth in conjunction with the boxers that worried me. It was an upscale hotel going to seed almost everywhere you looked. The best example of this was the huge patio on the second floor,easily the size of a football field, with rotting gravelly cement and scrubby shrubbery. And in the center was a structure that looked like it had jumped to its death during construction and just landed apropos of nothing right in the middle. Obviously it used to be used for special functions, what with it’s lovely view of the arch, but now was full of ripped curtains, knocked over chairs, peeling walls, and a trail mix of dust and droppings.

And then John was outside the hotel early in the morning smoking a cigarette and a fellow comes up to him and tells him he’s Tim Burton’s brother. He was wearing sandals showcasing his blistery feet, a thick gold chain, and a red baseball shirt. I wasn’t there so I’ll paraphrase to the best of my ability.

“I’m Tim Burton’s brother. I’m actually a millionaire, but the film industry is such a cash heavy game I don’t have access to it right now. Do you have a cigarette? I make documentaries. “What kind of documentaries? “ Oh well ummm… you know about like selling drugs……… and ummm…. prostitutes. “

He told John that he had started a bunch of companies and gave him his e-mail. John later looked them up and there was a whole page of fake LLC’s. I kind of admire his approach though. It’s that kind of chutzpah that can take a bum and elevate him to a hobo.

I wanted to go up in the arch as I’ve never done that, but the whole park is under massive construction for its 50th anniversary. Pretty much everything of interest downtown was fenced off. The mix of architectural styles and ages bore a striking similarity to Cincinnati, with some German, the odd Art Deco, and a few modern glass corporate trifles thrown in. The odd thing to me was how few people were out and about on Wednesday afternoon. I walked around for a while but never found anything open except a lovely little sculpture garden with public swimming fountains full of kids. The thing is I’ve been to St. Louis several times and I know there are wonderful parts. I love the Soulard Farmer’s Market, Forest Park with its free museums, and the Delmar district. It’s once again the curse of how everything gets so spread out. They were miles away, not really walkable destinations, with the only public transportation being the bus. And there are few things more impenetrable than local bus routes to a visitor. Outside of a few major cities, the U.S. really forces one to drive.

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Then we were off to Off Broadway for the show. We were playing Twangfest, a yearly Americana festival celebrating its 20th year. I think this is our third time playing it and for the life of us we don’t know why they keep asking us back. They’ve even had us play their show at SXSW a couple of times. It’s a super well run festival and we’ve always been treated incredibly well. Last time we played with Kelly Hogan and this time James McMurtry. So, not too bad there. I think my favorite thing about the Twangfest audience is that the people who support and attend something like this for 20 years are foremost music fans. The kinds of people who collect records, read reviews, and argue about different line-ups. We played the Off Broadway a long, almost forgotten time ago and it’s turned into a wonderful venue. They’ve built a little courtyard with chairs, a fire pit, and an outside covered bar. The room sounds great and has a balcony. Before the set I went and walked around the neighborhood. It was eerie, but once again there was almost no one around. The houses were mostly well kept with flower boxes watered and such, but no one was outside. It was a little unnerving.

Oh and the show was just wonderful. The sound was clear and perfect onstage and the crowd was super enthusiastic. The cheers at the end of “Teenage Wasteland” made us feel like The Who. An absolutely perfect way to start the tour in earnest.

Tomorrow is Tulsa.

Tour Diary: Daytrotter (US / Day 1)

Back in the U.S.S.A

Salty Snack of the Day: Is dead. Long live the great 2016 U.S. Cheese Doodle Census! We actually started this on our spring break run of shows. I can’t guarantee one every day as regionalism in the U.S. is a dying thing. They will be compiled in a separate post, but the ultimate goal is to elevate the doodle to the lofty, snooty heights of gas station wine. We will fling words like mouth feel and bouquet around like a Whole Foods sommelier.

Kitchen Cooked Cheese Kettle Kurls: Just horrible. I ate one and refused to eat another. We threw them away. That’s a damning statement, because after an hour in the van almost anything salty becomes desirable,

Texture: Like that green stuff in the bottom of plant containers. Or time capsule sponge cake.

Flavor: Fake butter. Seriously. Because the world needs a doodle that tastes like kettle corn.

Idiocy from the Van:

Terrence Trent D’Arby’s or Terrence Trent D’Roy Rogers

 

I’ve thought a lot about whether to continue writing the blog for the domestic portion of our tour. But when the truth of the fact of the matter is I write this for something to do, and not for any potential phantasmal readers, I know it’s going to happen anyway. In order to do this though, I need some sort of frame of reference. A reference point. A point blank (I could play this game all day!) enough to encompass the autumnal regret of Springsteen with the impotent longing Reeves and Swayze, but not whomever they cast in that reboot of Point Blank. (Chuck just reminded me the movie was called Point Break but I’m not changing it because it just doesn’t matter) Because are we really so bereft of creativity that we need to remake what is at best a cheese-bag movie? I’m sort of willing to accept Disney flipping cartoons onto the stage like Howard Hill adding a coat of paint to a murder house and calling it new, but only because I gather the staging is outstanding. I mean we’re averaging one original and impactful musical a decade now. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in the ‘90’s, “Wicked” in the 2000’s, and now “Hamilton,” which I haven’t seen. A golden era this is not.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is this is our third western adventure and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Combine that with how utterly lovely every little thing seemed in England, and I wondered if it would be possible to view this trip with the perspective of a foreigner. Seeing as the pair of eyes I scooped out of a hobo in Piccadilly Square with a spoon went bad, (they’re way more delicate than kidneys) I will use the eyes of Olie! Yes! Olie is joining us for most of this tour. (You might remember Olie from such roles as being our driver in England.)

As we get ready to leave, the current state of Wussy is as follows: the band is financially strapped, (nothing new) everyone in the band is broke, the stress of finishing up the school year, trying to get everything done around the house, the guilt of leaving my kids during summer break, my dear wife carrying all the weight of keeping the family and house running. I’m not handling it well. I wish I was, but it’s been a month at least since I haven’t taken some sort of antacid every day. The net result of all this is that I have entered into a pitched battle with my tongue. I’m sure there’s a name for that piece of skin behind your two front teeth, and I hope that it sounds vaguely inappropriate like myoeatmymeatrium. Regardless, mine started hurting and I hadn’t even gotten a tortilla chip stuck up in it. I noticed that my tongue seemed to be pretty much stuck to the roof of my mouth all the time. Is it supposed to be? Is it always there? If it’s always there then why is the roof of my mouth hurting. I don’t think it is supposed to be up there all the time. I think it’s supposed to be resting peacefully in the bottom of the mouth. After all there seems to be a nice place carved out for it. It’s a horrible thing to be aware of your tongue. In trying to relax my face and get my tongue to settle back in it’s tongue-cave I now realize I have this large, wet, dangly thing in my mouth and now it needs to be told what to do. Great. And that’s only the tip of iceberg A-42*. I could make a list I tell ya.

We left at the ungodly hour of 8 am for the seven hour drive to Davenport.*  This then would seem to be an excellent chance to practice my new open and naïve approach to seeing my country. Then I thought maybe I would start in Illinois. Because Indiana. I’m not a hero. I’m just one man.

Illinois seen from I-74 is rather nice. There are not much livestock visible, just unimaginable miles of young green corn plants. The fields of England are parceled out in tidy, eccentric packages bound by hedges and populated with small furry animals. That’s another early impression: the sides of the highways seem less tidy than in England. But how could it be otherwise? There is approximately 6.5 million miles of roads in the U.S. as opposed to not quite 400,000 in the U.K. We have the largest network of roads in the world.

Davenport is one of the Quad Cities, which also includes Bettendorf on the Iowa side of the Mississippi with Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side. I asked someone how long it would take to go from say Davenport to Moline if you wanted to see a show. He said, “Oh, maybe 15 minutes.” So even though one of the recurring themes this tour is going to be how freaking yuge*** this country is, the Quad cities are fairly small. Davenport, described as pretty sleepy by a local, is showing signs of an uptick in shit going on. There’s barcade with Chexx Hockey (way better than foosball), a cool hipster tap room, and of course Daytrotter. Daytrotter has been recording sessions for a long time (since 2006). In the past they used to put the sessions on vinyl but now they make them available online. It’s treated like a real recording studio session with lots of care given to isolating the instruments and getting really good sounds. It was fun and having to focus in so much in order to sound like we know what we’re doing was an excellent way to get us back in touring fettle. They’ve also recently opened up a performance space, which is gorgeous. Then we ate Chipotle, died inside a little, and drove to St. Louis.

 

*I was going to give the iceberg a name. A name that would reflect my current state of mind. It turns out however, there is already a system in place for naming them. The National Ice Center monitors and names all icebergs 10 nautical miles or longer along one axis. They are assigned a letter depending on the point of origin.

 A – longitude 0° to 90° W (Bellingshausen Sea, Weddell Sea)

B – longitude 90° W to 180° (Amundsen Sea, Eastern Ross Sea)

C – longitude 90° E to 180° (Western Ross Sea, Wilkes Land)

D – longitude 0° to 90° E (Amery Ice Shelf, Eastern Weddell Sea)

I chose the longitude for Cincinnati in naming my ‘berg.

 

** Davenport is what my Grandmother called couches.

*** huge

Tour Diary: London (UK / Days 14-16)

Salty Snack of the Day: Howdah Onion Bhaji – Kind of the shape and texture of sesame sticks but a rice based snack. Delicious but spicy as all get out.

Britishisms Heard Uttered: Bloody – I didn’t hear it once. Has this most British of institutions fallen by the wayside? Is it what the biddies mutter under their breath when the price of porridge goes up by two pence? Is it the consarnit or balderdash of England? I really fucking hope not.

Birds: Robin – I really wanted to see one and I did it! Oddly the robin is part of the chat family here but the blackbird is part of the thrush family.

(Seen in the Royal Gardens) Pochard, Barnacle Goose, Goldeneye, Pelicans (introduced in 1664 as a gift from the Russian ambassador)

These are not show days and Joe and his “wife” are already in Bath for the duration. Monday was very simply driving, going to George and Jan’s place, returning rented gear, figuring out paperwork, then heading to the hotel. We were out by some airport with nothing to walk to, so we ended up staying in for the evening, drinking beer in the hotel café and hanging out with Olie for the last time this tour.

This then would seem a good time to sing the praises of our man-crush Olie. His job is to drive us to and from gigs. The fact that he helped us load-in\out, set-up and tear down gear, sell merch, run and get food, and act as tour guide just shows how much he went above and beyond the call of duty. And in the grand tradition of British comedians he deployed a wide range of accents, voices, and silly walks to keep us pissing ourselves laughing. We lucked out.

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As for the rest of the last two days I went full on tourist. I’m just going to list everything I saw and keep descriptions to a minimum. I’m already walking a thin line between Rick Steves and middle-aged man slide show.* I will say that London more than lived up to its reputation as one of the worlds great cities. There was a point where I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear the English language for an hour, but instead a steady flow of languages that were melodiously unfamiliar. It felt like a literal crossroads to the world and I loved it. John E. will hopefully post a recording he made when he was standing on the sidewalk listening to the sound of Indian music being performed in someone’s apartment above him. Some men walking up to the building asked if he liked music and of course John said yes. So then, at 2:00 in the morning no less, they invited him to come up and listen. He got to play a harmonium and talk with everyone.

Tuesday:

My cold was at its worse and I was probably hungover. London was as gloomy as a Death Eater’s mixer after the bridge mix has run out, and promised rain and humidity in spades all day.

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  • Navigated Tube successfully. (Thanks Harry Beck!)
  • Trafalgar Square for coffee, writing, recovering, and realizing there were far too many tourist groups around to even fathom.
  • Walking away from people took me to St. James Royal Gardens with all the Royal birds, Royal grass, Royal bird poop distributed with the enthusiasm, dedication, and equality of a Communist’s wet dream, Royal Cigarette butts, Royally brazen squirrels, etc.

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  • Churchill’s Bunker Museum. Really expensive. Good museum on the man’s life and visits to the map room and such are very cool. But really expensive.

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  • Buckingham Palace. There was long line of posh, white people in coattails and hats and frumpy dresses and hats holding invitations. Turns out it was a big tadoo for the Queen’s 90th I left the Princess Di latch-hook rug I made in 1997 against the gate and walked away feeling closure at last.
  • Parliament House and Big Ben
  • Tube to Picadilly Square

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  • The Royal Society!! Did I mention it was my birthday? Well here was my gift to myself. There was a talk open to the public that night. The Royal Society came into existence in 1660 and has done things like publish Newton’s ‘Principa Mathematica” and Hooke’s “Micrographia.” (there was a small exhibit on that as well) The talk this evening was by the 2015 Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar prize winner Professor Hasok Chang and was titled, “Who Cares About the History of Science?” It was a wonderful talk even when I didn’t understand it. So cool to be there.
  • End of tour celebratory dinner with George and Jan in East London.

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Wednesday

  • Walked to the Rough Trade Record Store in the Brick Lane part of London, and then all around the neighborhood. East London reminds me of Brooklyn with its transitional areas and hipsters.
  • Decided I would walk the two miles to The Tate Modern so as to see more of London. Was supposed to take 40 minutes but didn’t pay enough attention to maps and it took two very wet hours. Still, I saw what felt like the financial part of Manhattan, with lots of cool modern buildings and people looking smart and business-ey.
  • I have to admit I was hurting by the time I got to the Tate. Throbbing feet, sweaty, wet, and just kind of spent. The rest of the day, however wonderful, would take on a slight Bataan sheen.
  • The Tate was under renovation but the collection was lovely. Lots of classics but also a nice focus on the incredible power of protest and social commentary that the visual arts can achieve maybe better than the other fine arts. The building felt a little austere with mile after mile of white walls and black beams.
  • Met John and Lisa at St. Paul’s Cathedral** for evening choir service. The choir was all male with voices ranging from pre-change to change the channel – that hippie David Attenborough is on. Those voices in that space was profoundly moving and deeply beautiful. We all three wiped tears away and I would’ve likely begun sobbing except for being mostly dead inside. Afterwards the only woman involved in the performance of the service was greeting people and I stopped to thank her. She then said an amazing thing to me. “Do you teach people to sing?” I was surprised at this leap of intuition and told her yes and who I taught. We then had a lovely talk about how the arts are being cut in England, just as in the States, and all the reasons why music is so profoundly important to our core humanity. She said they were sending out a choirmaster to the poorer communities to try and fill in a little of what is being lost. The older I get, the greater the import of service to others seems to be. Connections between people and peoples have to be forged, they don’t just happen without effort.

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  • Came across where Sherlock fell from St. Barts.
  • Walked across Millenium Bridge on a day the Dementors held in thrall, and then peeped on the Globe Theater.

 

*I can’t define redundancy but I know it when I see it.

** I chose cake but they were out. Damn.

Tour Diary: Bristol (UK / Day 13)

Salty Snack of the Day: Pipers Wissington Tomato – It tastes like tomatoes. I love tomatoes. I hated these. Every time I tried to eat them it was like a crispy stone falling through the good parts of my soul and taking a little bit with it. I suddenly wanted to feed puppies chocolate and read Rod McKuen’s poetry to shut-ins. Did not finish.

Britishisms Heard Uttered: Birmingham Twat – Not a thing in and of itself I assume. However whenever one of us would say Birmingham Olie would affect a mocking nasal American accent and say “BermingHAM” making the ham sound like the salty meat. One is supposed to pronounce it as if the word is being swallowed as it’s being spoken. “Brmnhmm.” But if one said twat like hot he would say, “No. Twat like hat.” Honestly.

Birds: Swallow

This will be the shortest post of the tour as it took nine hours to get from Edingburgh to Bristol. We climbed back into the silver bullet of hate and set out.

In the U.S. if you want to stop and make, or get fuel and food, you just get off at an exit and avail yourself of whatever is there. In the U.K. they’re called Services and they were lifesavers. It’s set up closer to the way say the Pennsylvania Turnpike has their service plazas. Daily we lived off of good fresh sandwiches and readymade salads like Beets with Feta from M&S or Witherspoons. Olie, however had been telling us that there is one service stop that was the greatest in the whole country.

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It’s somewhere in Cumbria and it’s magical. Plates of sweet, bakery treats great you. There’s a shop with good cheese and wine, and the café has vegetarian lasagna, sausages, fresh peas with mint. Is a big deal? No? Yes? * Ok, imagine you’re travelling for 9 hours on the highways of America and surviving off of gas station snacks or fast food. It’s horrible and you end up feeling like shit. Now imagine a Whole Foods with all the smugness sucked out like meat from Jack Klugman’s colon. That’s this place in a nutshell. But even the regular U.K services I mentioned before are packed with fresh food. No wonder the United States has eating problems. I’m writing this as we drive back to Cincinnati from NYC and the only kind of fresh food I can find is yogurt, boiled eggs in a bag, Cracker Barrel cheese rectangles and carrot sticks. It’s enraging. We’ve been trying to strategize how to eat healthy while touring this summer and all we can figure out is to bring a cooler, find grocery stores, and make our own breakfasts and lunches. Hell, even Starbucks, who I am no great fan of, has vastly more fresh options in the U.K.

Anyway, you can imagine how bedraggled** we looked as we pulled up to the Fleece in Bristol. Last show of the tour, hostel sleep the night before, fighting colds; we were a fright. We were ending the tour the way we began by opening up for Shonen Knife. It’s a fairly famous Bristol venue and bigger than we would play on our own. (for instance Icicle Works are playing there SOOON!***) Big box, older building, audibly sticky floors; classic club in other words. Leggy, the Cincinnati trio traveling the island the same time as us, opened the show and played such an energetic, awesomely rocking set I went out to the van and said we were in danger of getting blown off the stage. And thank God for it, because it was just the kick in the ass we needed to finish the tour strong. We had no soundcheck and limited time so we dispensed with our usual pleasantries and made as much noise as we could for 45 minutes. It was a bigger crowd than Gateshead and they were far more responsive. We did a run and gun; loading straight out and leaving right away, dead on our feet.

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I went on a short walk and right near the club was an active archaeological dig of a site going back to mediaeval times. Of course it was happening so someone can build on top of it, but I’m guessing you can’t plant a tulip without coming across history in this country.

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A block or two away from a picturesque bridge crossing what I think is the river Avon, I found the closed St. Nicholas Market, which was started in 1743, but that was all I really had time to see.

Tomorrow is back to London and taking care of business in the non-Elvis, more Colonel Tom Parker way.

 

*Written in an Italian accent. Go back and read it that way. It’s works better.

** Did you know draggled was a word? It means to soil by dragging over wet or dirty ground.

***When I wrote that in Word, I started the phrase at a font size of 8 and every word got bigger so it was just like a Whisper to a Scream. I can’t figure out how to do that in WordPress but I just wanted you to know that I was trying.

Tour Diary: Edinburgh (UK / Day 12)

Salty Snack of the Day: Seabrook (Lovingly made in Yorkshire) Sea Salt and Vinegar – Handed to me as the van door opened in Edinborough. Salt and Vinegar in the UK are much less intense than at home. You can actually eat them without opening up sores in your mouth. This is an excellent chip.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Chuffed – “I’m right chuffed by that!”

 Birds: Black-Headed Gull, Little Tern, (I felt confident at the time at least) Red Kite, Pheasant (dead), Oystercatcher, Jackdaw

Today was to be our last headlining show and our only one in Scotland. But before that all sorts of epic, potentially dangerous, undoubtedly heroic things would have to happen. Like Olie getting up far too early to take the ailing van to the garage, then taking a cab back to the hotel to pick Chuck and I up, (because we’re just slightly less heroic- like that sycophantic Samwise Clamcheese from the Lord of the Flies) The upside to not remaining cozily enrobed in a Travelodge duvet like the lazy bastards who are everyone else, is that I got to see a little more of the actual city of Birmingham. We were staying in an industrial area with the Land Rover/Jaguar factory right next door. We never went through the city center but moved into an area that increasingly looked like an American city. It wasn’t just the litter and graffiti, or the barbwire and sketchy looking buildings, or even the palpable sense if diminished opportunities… Oh wait, yes it was. I am not saying Birmingham is like that. I’m just saying this street was. And of course this is where the rental place was. It was a dirty, piece of shit place and if I could remember the name I’d launch a flame war against them and their shoddy business. Even though we were paying 100 pounds a day and there were Transit vans onsite, they gave us an old LDV with an empty tank, no washer fluid, the engine check light on, and hard plastic city-bus like seats that wouldn’t fold down or adjust. So needless to say (he said) loading in gear was annoying as hell. We had to line the seats with pillows or parts of our bodies would begin to seize up within 15 minutes.

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Anyway, enough of that. We had about a seven-hour drive to Edinburgh and we were of course late. Flash forward a few hours and we entered the region of Cumbria. From here until we arrived the scenery became more beautiful with every mile. Rolling hills, green green fields, cascading streams, stone walls containing regular sheep and the long hairy kind as well as long hairy Highland cattle. Plus, actual cool birds! By the time we got to Scotland the roads were too curvy to write and the buildings and villages looked hewn from a time so long past you expected to see broadswords and buboes. My father had told me Scotland was maybe the favorite place he’d visited in the world, with its unearthly beauty and decent, open people. I see what he means.

As we approached our venue in Edinburgh, The Electric Circus, the architecture made the inhabitants of the van sound like slack-jawed yocals watching a fireworks display.

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After a quick load-in Olie, Lisa, and I went for our usual one-hour to see a town walk. We walked by the Gothic tower created as a tribute to Robert Shaw,* and began walking up the hill towards the Edinburgh Castle. There was a long set of stairs and it was satisfying to see everyone walking up on the left. It’s a chicken and egg thing isn’t it? Does the side of the street you drive upon influence the side of a walkway or staircase you walk down, or the other way around? (Potential doctoral thesis anyone?)

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Anyway, Lisa and I bought tartan scarves because Scotland, and as we re-entered the street we heard the sound of bagpipes coming from the direction of the Castle. Lisa took off running. I didn’t because my cool, dispassionate demeanor simply does not allow it. We never figure out why, but in front of the Castle was not just a group of piping baggers but local bugle and drum corps. They played music that alternated between triumphant and plaintive while executing parade maneuvers that would have made Dr. Heimlich faint with pleasure. Arguable highlight of the tour.

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The Electric Circus is an interesting mix of intended audiences. They have private karaoke rooms, which seemed to be the focus of many hen-dos. These were different from the Cardiff hen-dos, which were patently silly and involved props and costumes. These parties were executed by fiercely intense women dressed to the nines, wearing high heels that would make Isachar Zacharie roll over in his grave,** and woe to those who would stand in their way. Like me for instance as I was standing in front of a door looking through the small window into a mysterious hallway with glowing doors on either side. “All right, let us through,” commanded a voice that surely in a past life conjured up sand storms with which to bury invading armies. I found myself inexplicably bowing and scraping in obsequious retreat. I am not mocking these women. They are awesome. At the end of the evening as they left the club with relaxed smiles and arms around each others shoulders, obviously heroically drunk, they were still gliding over the cobblestones in those impossible heels as if they were wearing slippers on Sunday morning.

And then we get on stage and the audience begins to cheer us with the vigor of most crowds when they hear the harmonica at a Billy Joel concert and they’re like “Oh my God – he’s playing Piano Man! I didn’t think he was going to do it and then bam – first encore!” This was our 13th show in 12 days. We’ve never done that before. We usually have a day off tucked in there somewhere and we were on fumes.*** So it was purely the energy of the audience that turned this into one of the best, most memorable shows of the tour. People arm in arm singing along, a roar of cheers after every song. In general, the British audiences are unsurprisingly a little more reserved than in the States (as well as not talking loudly through every song by every performer) but the Scottish threw that all out the window. It was a joyous experience. About halfway through the set Lisa said, “Ah, so this is where our people come from. This is like playing at home.”

After the set we ate Nandos (3rd time) in the apartment/green room a few doors down from the club.**** The night before I’d woken up several times with a sore throat and it was now apparent that it was here to stay. Also, and wait for this, the entire band, Olie, and Joe’s “wife” were sleeping in bunk beds in one room at the hostel across the street. I had vowed I would drink good single malt scotch while in Scotland and a stiff bit of courage before the hostile seemed appropriate. And while I’m not a whiskey drinker I could get used to that.

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View from a Hostel. (Second best Kim Wilde song)

The hostel experience can be summed up in this one interaction. As Chuck, John and I were bringing guitars up to the room, we went through yet another door (there was one every five feet I swear) into another narrow hallway, when a beautiful young women steps out of the showers in a towel. Us three middle-aged men immediately averted our eyes and begin shuffling to try to get out of her way. Of course we’d completely jammed up the space like Michael Jordan and realized the only way out was forward. As we went through at least two more doors she resignedly followed us while we issued forth mumbled, “sorrys and almost theres.” We felt like oafs. The night passed in a chorus of snores and bunk bed head smashed curses. It was ridiculous and hilarious and thank God the only one on the tour.

 

Tomorrow is Bristol.

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  • Sir Walter Scott in truth, but I accidentally wrote Robert Shaw. Don’t you love him? Of course Jaws, but Force 10 from Navarone, Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 (everything I do is funky like Lee Dorsey) Anyway, at 200 feet 6 inches it’s the largest monument to a writer in the world. It was supposed to only be 200 feet but his wife asked for just six inches more.

**President Lincoln’s foot doctor. I just spent the last 15 minutes reading about him. Cool story.

*** Not literally. We don’t advocate or partake in huffing.

**** Quick aside. In the van John typically sat up front with Olie and they got on like a house on fire. One day we heard the sound of goats screaming from Olie’s phone and those two almost crying from laughing. Jump back to the green room. Bands are given one key and when you enter you climb a winding set of stairs. As it turns out the doorbell wasn’t working. So as some of us are sitting up there, most likely in a stupor, we hear the surprisingly loud sound of a goat screaming. I run down the stairs and there is Olie summoning us through the mail slot while everyone else is doubled over on the very pubic sidewalk laughing. Maybe one of those you had to be there moments but definitely an entry into the band pantheon.

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Tour Diary: Birmingham (UK / Day 11)

Salty Snack of the Day: M&S Prawn Cocktail – I had to try at least one prawn snack right? I wasn’t looking forward it but was told by a concerned local that the Marks and Spencer brand was the best. Just very slightly fishy with a little tomato in there. Not that notable either way really.

Britishism of the Day: Bollocks “It’s like putting clean underwear over dirty bollocks.”

Birds: Grey Heron and probable Buzzard flying over.

I don’t remember much of the drive to Birmingham. Days are starting to run together. I met a motoring enthusiast with a broken down 40-year old Morgan who was ever so happy to tell me the entire history of the company and the various models of Morgans then and now. (always accompanied by the liter size of the engine) They still create 200 cars a year largely by hand. He was still talking as I backed away, lost in his reverie, waiting for the break calipers to cool down enough so he could drive home and tinker some more.

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We were set to play the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham, but it was actually in an area called King’s Heath, a suburb about 5 miles from the city center. We were running late because of repeated bouts of horrific traffic. In order to stave off my usual soundcheck crash I order my first typical English breakfast.* Yesterday a pasty, today an English Breakfast. Is there anything I’m missing that is classically English, but also potentially vegetarian? Ooh, crumpets! I should have one of those. Wouldn’t mind some clotted cream too. Mmmm….clots.

We walked into the venue’s room and were engulfed in smothering fog machine smoke. Since we were late we flew through the soundcheck and began to look around. The H&H was a very old, maze-like, gorgeous pub and venue. The walls were covered in stunning art deco tiles, and I found a courtyard that felt like a secret hidden in the middle of the building.

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I ate my breakfast for dinner, (baked beans with a hash brown floating in them, toast, egg, tomatoes, and grilled haloumi cheese) and looked up the history of the place. And it was haunted! Here’s an excerpt describing the events in question:

In the 1990’s barmaid, Marion Powell, had an experience she will never forget! She went down to the cellar to get the cleaning products she needed at the start of her shift when she spotted an overwhelming blackness come rushing down the stairs towards her and engulfed her! Marion describes it as pure evil.  But that wasn’t the worst of it! She then heard “GET OUT!!!” screamed at her and she needed no further incentive to run out of the pub!

Sometime earlier the landlord noticed a foul smell coming from the sewage system and it had become blocked by a black gunge coming through the walls of the cellar.  It seems that the building next door was the site of the city gallows.  The bodies of the executed criminals were pushed into a trough which now forms part of the cellar wall of the pub!! It’s ok though, they have built a new wall now between the cellar and the old building.

Today we often meet Harey Harold, our friendly ghost, who occasionally plays with the lighting and music systems as well as knocking the odd thing off the shelves. 

Except I just found out this story came from a different Hare and Hounds. Piss. Oh well, it’s a good story.

Anyway, The H&H we were at had a plaque stating UB40 had made their debut there, and it’s legitimately considered one of the best small venues in the UK. As has become the habit we were treated well, provided tea, coffee, water and beer, and of course the sound was excellent. We played an abbreviated set because there was a DJ up after us. The crowd was kind of far away from us and mostly hidden by the rock fog, but it was a good night.

Olie had spent a good portion of the evening under the van trying to fix what now seemed like an exhaust issue. After the show he reported that it hadn’t worked and was getting steadily worse. With a long drive to our last headlining show in Scotland the next day, he said he was going to try a 24 hour Mercedes Benz garage, but that we were probably going to have to attempt to rent a van the next morning. Olie was obviously displeased and left for the garage around midnight with the plan to plead our situation using many dire adjectives and puppy dog eyes. He returned shortly after with the place being locked down and inaccessible. So tomorrow at the crack of dawn we shall sally forth,** deposit his van, rent a different one, and still try to make soundcheck. Will we make it? Prospects look dim as the dim prospectors settle in for an uneasy night of fitful sleep.***

*With Linda McCartney sausage. I can’t believe there’s enough left of her after all this time but she was delicious.

**Sally Worth. Whatever.

***How’s that for a cliffhanger? It’s a pretty shit one isn’t it? Dammit.

Tomorrow is Edinburgh

Tour Diary: Brighton (UK / Day 10)

Salty Snack of the Day: Leighton Brown Sweet Potato and Cheese and Jalapeno Crisps – Not a very common brand I gather but ridiculously delicious. Oh and before the show a couple of audience members who have reading the blog provided an entertaining and educational discussion  about the merits of regional salty snacks. And when people began shouting out different snacks during our set I was tickled beyond belief.

Britishisms Heard Uttered: Wee – As in pee. In the Windmill’s men’s room, one peed against a ceramic wall where the collective urine was collected in a gutter-sized trough and sent steaming to the right. During the second afternoon, when the festival was still going on, a little boy said to his father, “Daddy, I’ve never had a wee in one of these before!” He was so innocent and excited he didn’t realize it was actually barbaric.

 Birds: I saw one species of bird in Brighton. The Herring Gull – large, noisy, and ubiquitous; they are the American tourists of the bird world.

Signs That Sound Naughty: All three of these were spotted on the way to the hotel after playing Brighton. Will likely not be a regular feature.

Sussex Tent Show

Arlington Upper Dicker

Polegate Willingdom

 

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We got up and hustled out of Leicester as every one was excited to get to Brighton, a seashore town made famous to me by the Who’s “Quadrophenia.” We had about an hour and a half to see the sights before soundcheck so Olie, who lives there, played tour guide and took us around. It was a stunning, perfectly sunny day as Olie parked the van at the beach by the huge Ferris Wheel. The beach at Brighton is composed of rocks. Some as big as a steak bone, some patches of small pebbles, but most the size of a small rubber bouncing ball. A bit difficult to walk in but the child in me, as well as Chuck, (our inner children are conjoined and named Bo and Percival) began selecting the most interesting examples until we had a pocketful of rocks

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The beach cuts towards the ocean in a steep terraced fashion and when the water was pulled back into the ocean as the bigger waves receded it made a hissing, bee-like sound I loved. There seemed to be a lot of what looks like flint in their composition, but regardless, the rocks make a glassine sound when knocked together either by us or the ocean. Just lovely.

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Next we began moving into town via the South Lanes. Very narrow, twisty, pedestrian only roads going back to the city’s fishing town origins, but now full of unusual posh shops like the one that created these two-foot high edible chocolate eggs.

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We walked by the Pavilion, described as a pleasure palace built for King George the IV. By the time it was done it had domes, minarets, and towers, reflecting a decidedly Indian flare. It’s quite stunning even if it was just built so a spoiled prince would have a place to party and shag.

Then into the North Laines, spelled differently for reasons I could look up, but I’ve already looked two things up and honestly it’s just below the threshold of fucks I give. The North Laines continued the trend of cool antique/vintage shops, bookstores and such. And here is where I’d like to state my favorite thing about Brighton. It’s a beach town, a longstanding tourist destination, but it is almost entirely bereft (bereft can be a good thing) of cheesy chain stores. Of course there are some sops to tourism. The world famous Pier, which had closed by the time I got to it, looks just packed with noxious family entertainments. But it has retained a certain elegance. Olie says it’s a town very accepting to artists and the odd. I could easily spend several happy days here I think.

We split up for about half an hour while Olie went back to fetch the van. I had a half pint, sat outside watching the world go by and eating my first Cornish Pasty. (rhymes with patsy or ummm…rhinoplasty) Like a large empanada but with dough more similar to that of a pie. I had the cheese and onion and it was like a Hot Pocket fit for a very kind, benevolent king.

On to the Hope and Ruin, our venue for the night. The downstairs pub and restaurant were super cool with all kinds of hipster shit on the wall. (Not literally – although I did contribute a little smackeral later on) They had fit a camper (caravan) into one corner and turned it into a vegan kitchen. I enjoyed their Krautwork vegan dog later. The windows were open to the sidewalk and we all sat there for a bit, reveling in the beautiful day and rather fetching populace

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The venue itself was a lovely clean version of the rock bar box. When the soundman, a fastidious and thorough man named Leon, spent a full five minutes just on the Joe’s kick drum sound, Lisa laid down on the stage to wait and we all drooped a little bit. But oh my God it was the David of kick drum sounds, and the rest of the band sounded just as good. It was like we were getting studio sound in a club.

After check everyone went off to get food but I was still engorged by my pasty. I headed towards a very thin, incredibly tall and modern looking structure that Pierced (2nd worst James Bond ever) the sky. When I reached it I saw it was not yet completed but would eventually have a clear glass restaurant or some such riding up and down it like a doughnut on a hot dog. When I asked Olie’s girlfriend (a thoroughly charming and delightful young lady far too good for Olie ) she had several choice words for that horrible, expensive monstrosity. I will say, the early days of the project appear to have nothing to do with the aesthetic of the town.

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I walked up the beach from the twice burned pier to the presently popular and unburned pier, walked through town until my feet sent pings of pain up my legs with every step, like the Nerka being depth-charged by Bungo Pete.*

The show was fabulous. It’s amazing how much more you can bring to a performance with great sound. Someone explain to me the high level of ability the soundmen (unfortunately all men thus far) of this island possess? The sound has been consistently great night after night, the engineers and crew consistently cheerful and accommodating. One thing that is the same is the weird way some towns become aware and fall for a band. We had one of our top two biggest crowds and they were excited to see us. They demanded extra encores (“Majestic 12” and “Muscle Cars”) and gave us a night to fill us up enough to power through the last three shows. (Hopefully! We’re really tired)

Tomorrow is Birmingham.

*”Run Silent, Run Deep.” Read it. Watch it.

Tour Diary: Derby (UK / Day 9)

Salty Snack of the Day: Walker’s Worcester Sauce – Tastes as described. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have this flavor at home.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Squidgy Bits – Another one from Olie. We were sitting in the hotel watching a bit of Terminator 2 and the lovely Linda Hamilton evoked a reverie on the wonder that is the female form. “I like the squidgy bits” was a sentiment that brought much reverential murmuring. “Ah yes, the squidgy bits. They’re the best…”

 Birds: Nothing new, although I did see a rookery of rooks and did a little dance when I realized it.

Derby (pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-erd*) was only a short hour away so the inevitable staked its claim and we declared it laundry day. Olie dropped us off in Leicester’s West End and went to the garage to get a more thorough opinion on the van’s issues. Laundry is laundry, and there wasn’t even any weirdos to comment upon. However, the garage’s claims to be able to look at the van immediately, much like the Treaty of Versailles** were so many empty promises. The little strip containing the launderette was shabby and held only one promise of diversion. The Merry Monarch, number one in the city (runner up nationally) in places to go after life has lost any of its meaning, but just (by a single pensioner’s hair) before death. There were three scooters of the type we call Rascal’s *** parked in front.

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Thus depressed and with news that the garage had not even looked at the van yet (we were miles from the hotel) I knew something heroic needed to be done or I’d go mental-er. The closest decent coffee was about a mile away according to my phone so I offered to go fetch some. Providing a service and getting to go on a quest? Perfect. Joe and I lit off for St. Martin’s Square, walking through the West End to get there. About halfway Joe said, looking around, “I could live here.” And I agreed. In some ways it seemed a little like Northside back home. Not fancy, enough Mom and Pop shops to feel unique, every day people going about their business. We walked through the University and into the square. It was full of windy (Sheryl Crow not fast moving air) (Oh, I’m supposed to use winding not windy? I think I shall not)(Screw you White and Strunk)****roads and vintage shops. Maybe our first full sunny day was influencing me but it fairly glowed. I put the tray of hot drinks into a paper bag, which Joe to his credit doubted the wisdom of, and began walking back. (St. Martin’s Tea and Coffee was delightful by the way) And then it happened. The real reason for the quest appeared. Not as a vision or burning shrubbery, but in the statue form of Richard the III performing the DAB. We were walking by the church where his bones were interred! Interred bones rule. Ruling bones interred rule harder. We were on a schedule so it was just a quick pop in where I saw the pall that had covered his coffin and his crown displayed above that. Not only is Richard III’s story worthy of a play, but the story of the re-discovery of his bones is amazing as well. Look it up! (I’ll wait)

Back on the sidewalk the drinks immediately broke through the bottom of the bag and plunged vengefully to the sidewalk, their contents of tea and coffee mixing all over the sidewalk like the blood of so many Lancastrians and Yorkists. Joe commented, “Well I guess that answers that question.” We got back to the laundrette just as Olie was pulling up in the van.

With clean clothes draped about ourselves we left for Derby.

We were playing a place called the Hairy Dog. The first impression from the outside was maybe a metal club, which is fine. The second impression, upon entering the pub portion, was kind of like the Comet back home. You know, a regular rock bar. The third impression made walking through the doors into the venue itself was, “Astroturf? Ok.” It’s a space that feels cavernous do to it’s super high ceilings, the stage is like a proper theater stage, not just an elevated portion of the floor, and the floor itself is covered completely in bright green Astroturf. We were immediately put at ease by the owner, wearing a Roky Erickson shirt, and another man wearing a Lowell George shirt, whose job, while undoubtedly of great importance was never immediately obvious. The soundman, with lightning speed, got sounds together and gave us some of the best sound of the tour.

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The big problem in my life was that I was starving. I’ve not had any problem finding good food to eat. What I’ve struggled with is the timing. This has happened repeatedly, where I find myself crashing. This was the second day in a row where I felt just horrible by the end of soundcheck. This was also to be the second night in a row where we ate at Nandos. Olie says that some bands he’s driven for eat at Nandos every night on tour. It’s certainly Chuck’s favorite place. It’s primarily a chicken place with lots of sauce options and is about as good as chain food gets. However, I was feeling so awful I couldn’t just sit and wait 20 minutes for food to arrive, so I did what I do and went for a walk. Maybe two blocks away was the stunning Derby Cathedral glowing in the early evening sun. A few blocks up from that was St. Mary’s Cathedral, fetchingly framed by a walking bridge leading up to it. The streets were laid out in a seemingly circular fashion, with blocks of huge imposing buildings curving away from you into infinity. Whether true or not the streets gave the town an ancient air. At least in this part of town the ubiquitous grid plan was nowhere in sight.

The Derby show was booked last minute to fill a spot on the itinerary and our expectations for attendance were low. This was also our 8th show in a row and we were feeling it. I think we played well, but it was well lacking in inspiration. The crowd was probably the same number as Manchester but were so far away, and we were so high above them it was difficult to feed off their energy. Throughout the set a weight in my chest grew and grew until I was practically despondent. Kind of like that feeling you get when the person you’re with has begun cheating on you but the knowledge hasn’t made it up from your subconscious yet.

After the show I went to sit in the green room, which was two benches facing each other in a narrow room painted red, because I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet. After a minute the woman who played first, a lovely voiced singer-songwriter named Jo Lewis (no relation) came in and a lovely thing happened. The typical introductory niceties led to our occupations and it turns out she teaches music at a Derby community center. We talked briefly about education but quickly the conversation moved to the folk music of our respective countries. I launched into a long-winded and frankly tedious monologue about the African and European disaspora while her eyes began darting to the exits. She expressed surprise that the English folk traditions were as influential as the Irish. (I think so at least) I told the story Lisa had relayed about the end of our first night at the Windmill. A small party near the door were quite snockerd, (pissed) one of them had even fallen asleep on their bench. They began singing an Irish song slurrily out of tune. Lisa at the time was talking to a man who was either some sort of music scholar or just loves its history. He started taking notes to try to identify the song and began to bemoan England’s loss of the oral singing tradition. He said that since the heyday of Pentangle and Fairport Convention the British had become too cool to sing like that. Lisa said he seemed genuinely sad.

Anyway, with the passage of this lovely conversation I felt the weight lifting from chest. By the time I released Jo from the dull ring of purgatory I felt better. I’m genuinely curious about how songs travel throughout the world, and while rock is my first love, I didn’t expect to get to talk with someone still trafficking in those traditions.

It was a challenging night but the club put on a great event. The other opener, Liam Walker, was as good of a writer and singer as all those Mummineers bands out there now. The owner paid us double our guarantee for no reason other than he was a decent sort.

Tomorrow is Brighton.

*Darby actually

** It was a Mercedes Benz dealer.

*** Why Felix Cavaliere does not have an endorsement deal is beyond me.

**** “Screw you back you run on sentence blog writing hack.” – Strunk and White

Tour Diary: Leicester (UK / Day 8)

Salty Snack of the Day: Jacobs Mini Cheddars: Like cheesy Ritz crackers. A somewhat sophisticated Cheez-It. I want to eat these forever. The BBQ ones are crap.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: SPAM! When the conversation turned to male pattern baldness, as it does, Olie said his hair was beginning to recede a bit. Then he patted his forehead and said, “I’ve always been a bit spammy though.” “Spammy?” “Well yes, when we were kids we would smack each other on the forehead and yell SPAM!”

 Birds: Ring-Necked Parakeet

We woke up, drove, checked into our hotel, Joe and I had a half pint in a lovely pub called the Red Cow, (with a really cool ‘70’s thatch roof) and drove into town.

The night previous our days destination had won the Premier League in football, which is the biggest deal thing you can win around here. They are a club that started in 1884 for pete’s sake. They haven’t won a title in something like 120 years I heard someone say, but honestly can’t make heads or tails of their history. They had started the season as 5,000 to 1 against winning it all so at least a few dreamers made some money. While we played our last night at the Windmill, the City of Leicester was losing its mind in a chanting, beery, party in the streets. It would have been a bad night for a show but probably amazing to witness. By the time we arrived the city had settled into a bleery, hungover, haze.

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We had been told by more than one person the Leicester can be a bit grim. And the first impression upon landing at our venue for the evening, which is located in an isolated industrial corner of the city, with the low hanging grey clouds sapping the color from the air, a concentration of Brutalist* architecture surrounding us, well I guess it could lend credence to this view. Shortly after arrival, with the club needing more time clean after the celebrations, we worked our way to the city center, which did feel little schizophrenic with the mish-mash of architectural styles. However, there were immense pedestrian walkways going off in every direction and an obviously vibrant modern city humming all around us. I could find no Leicester City swag to commemorate the historic victory as of course it was all bought up. The longer I spent in the city the more it all started to feel cohesive. I know that it is ultimately ridiculous to say anything of any depth with these glancing visits. It’s presumptuous to assume I can bring any insight to a place where we people actually invest themselves, their time, their futures. Take these missives for what they are: geographically limited impressions influenced by the need to find something to eat. Anyway, I noticed that Leicester seemed to be a very worldly city and when I looked up its stats I saw that it had experienced several significant waves of immigration. I’m always pleased when I find myself in a place where there is a polyglot of voices and a feeling of peaceful cohabitation.

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The club was called the Musician and it was easily the Cadillac of venues on this tour. Beautiful room, excellent stage and sound system, and a veteran soundman named Malcom who continually chuckled as if life was a constant source of bemusement. The opening bands were flat out wonderful. (Luna Rosa and Echolocation) I’ve had this feeling that perhaps the UK still loves guitar rocknroll in a way that the States does not at the moment. I don’t know if I’m in a bubble and the general population has moved on from the electric guitar here as well, but the bands we keep hearing seem to be evolving the form in a way that has been reviving to hear. For instance the band Echolocation could have fit in any era from post-punk to obviously now. There was an angularity and artiness that was amazing to hear people still doing. Chuck compared them to the Fall, which seems pointlessly vague, but he can’t always be brilliant. I was kind of thinking maybe Pere Ubu with trumpet and a lighter touch. I mean how much fun is it to talk about bands like that? Anyway, after a small onstage bout of insecurity worrying that the reserve of the crowd indicated apathy, or even worse it’s second cousin antipathy, we recovered ourselves and played well. We were just being stupid as once again we were blessed with a generous and attentive audience.

Tomorrow is Darby.

 

*I’m no architecture expert. Feel free to correct me if I’ve got it wrong.

Tour Diary: London (UK / Days 6-7)

Salty Snack of the Day: Flame Grilled Spanish Chorizo with Roasted Onion – As a vegetarian I just want you to know what I’m willing to do to bring back the best in salty snack news. The question here is can a potato chip ever live up to such a grandiose name? These tasted like smoked paprika and onion powder. So no.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Mental – You hear this all the times on British shows and it’s my favorite. Overheard on a sidewalk, “That’s completely mental.” Yes.

 Birds: I saw a Great Tit! Looks like the world’s most badass chickadee. Moorhens with babies in the water and some still on the nest. A newly fledged wren. Finally! Good British birds.

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We stayed just outside Cardiff in a hotel right up against the highway. I had about 45 minutes before the slowest among us would be ready, so even though it seemed as if we were surrounded by concrete I figured I’d look around. At the end of the street I saw a football field bearing the sign Albion Rovers Football Club. After reading the plaintive missive spray painted on the side of the club walls expressing that basic human longing for Hoes, Money, and Weed, I found myself on a trail with ridiculously cute families throwing sticks to their dogs. The trail ran along a shallow river and boom, freaking birds everywhere! It was wonderful. With a rolling Welsh field in the distance on the other side of the river, if you turned your back to the highway you were immersed in the countryside. A small distance down the trail, as the stream deepened, I came to a 200 year old lock and realized of course that the river was an old canal. The timbers used to open and close the lock were immense, and as the lock now functioned as a dam, the other side became more of a meandering river with trees arching over on each side. I couldn’t believe my luck. I could have spent my whole day walking this trail, but something possibly even better was waiting for me. Lisa, being her sweet self, had suggested in the van the night before that since we were staying so close to Cardiff why don’t we just go to the Dr. Who Museum in the morning? Interest ranged from none to keen but everyone agreed.

Your visit at the museum starts out with what I guess they would hope was an immersive experience. On the half hour a ticketed group files into a room with smoke and an ominous crack in the wall. Our guide, either an aspiring actress overmatched by the material or an actual tour guide under-endowed with charisma, suddenly began interacting with a videotaped Peter Capaldi, and before we knew it we were in mortal peril and tasked with finding three crystals to save something or other of vital importance. It was obviously designed for children even though there was not one amongst our group. It was as Olie put it, rather cringe-y, but I thought it was delightful nonetheless. We went inside the TARDIS, the floor shook, Daleks threatened us, all the things you’d want to see.

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Then you got to enter the part of the museum containing all the props, monsters, and costumes from the entirety of the series. I love behind the scenes stuff. It’s so much fun to see everyday items spray painted and glued to some metal screen or plywood and knowing that through the camera it would look otherworldly. Plus, it meant the world to me to be able to bring back pictures and cool shit that you can only get there to my son.

But now we were late for London.

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We were playing two nights at the Windmill in Brixton. Upon arrival the name became obvious as the park adjacent contained an actual enormous windmill like I’ve never seen in person before. It didn’t seem English so much as Dutchy. So of course I passed it on the left hand side. The next day there was a festival celebrating its 200th anniversary and the whole community came and hung out on the green, drinking some local beer I can’t remember now because the line was too long to get some. It was lovely seeing so many people sitting together with nothing other than a pretty awesome DJ and one tent selling beer. The Windmill (as venue) seemed ancient and gave me the vibe of a place that could host open mic poetry readings* as well as gobbing punk nights. Candles stuck in bottles, a huge wooden bar lit seemingly entirely from the refrigerators, and a tiny stage emerging out of the back corner. We were headlining the Walpurgis Night Festival, but to be honest spent several hours on the sidewalk in front enjoying a rare nice night, lax open container laws, and waiting for the dog to appear. The Windmill is famous for its dog on the roof.** There have been at least three through the years and the current resident is named Lucky. I don’t know breeds but he was a bear of a dog with enormous tan paws, and he lived on the flat roof above the bar, occasionally sticking his head over the side to gaze down. It looked as if there was probably an apartment up there too so hopefully he wasn’t outside all the time. From time to time he would drop a sad little fragment of a ball directly onto the sidewalk in front of the doorway. People would huck it back up and every single time Lucky would catch it in the air. Olie went on a two-day quest to get him a new ball but sadly, like Ponce De Leon, he failed.

And then I saw a grey fox! Just crossed the street like it was nothing and disappeared like a less shooty, more urban Rommel. So I guess nothing like Rommel at all really. Regardless, the only mammal I would be more excited to see would be a mongoose. And your mom.

The club was packed and what with there being something like 12 bands there was no time for niceties. We just jumped onstage, plugged things in, felt the collective sense of chaos hover just above panic and started playing. The soundman was on it though. Which is amazing considering he had mixed a million other bands already and we were all crammed into a dark sticky corner with detritus and cables everywhere. We could hear everything and by the second song it seemed like maybe it was going to be OK. Sitting in the hotel the night before we had watched a documentary on the rise of post-punk synth bands like Human League and Gary Numan. They had shown a brief clip of a very early Clash playing “White Riot” in a punk club with bodies flying everywhere and people losing their minds and I just tried to channel that spirit. And it worked. Mostly because of the good sound but whatever it takes. The audience was standing on benches in the back and at times singing along so loudly Lisa could hear them over her own vocals. That’s a magical feeling.

We were due to play the next night as well, performing “Forever Sounds” in its entirety. So off we went through nighttime London, driving across the Tower (London) Bridge and across the Thames to our home and hotel for the night.

The Windmill Day 2

We returned mid-afternoon having had a nice lie-in and I promptly went to a coffee shop called The Stir to write. While gazing out the window I saw a man walk into the middle of the side street gesticulating angrily and obviously shouting at someone off screen. It went on for a while and when John joined me he said there had to seemed to be some tiff at the chicken place up the street. It was unusual in that he was the first upset Briton I had seen. He left. Came back and yelled some more. Again left. About five minutes later he walked into view with a man sporting those ever so helpful neck tattoos, and they were facing each other and smiling. However the man was holding a knife. A nasty looking bugger too. I just started goggling at John saying “I think he has a knife!” The two men clapped each other on the shoulders and then the man, with a wide swing of his arm, hurled the knife into the trees. I still don’t know what I saw.

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The rest of the afternoon is easy to summarize. It was a bank holiday so every veg. restaurant I walked to was closed, I got lost, it rained on me, and two hours after leaving the coffee shop I finally found a restaurant. Pizza, Spanish wine, and a nauseating number of couples in the obviously early delusional stage of infatuation.

Then I went back to the Windmill where everyone in the band was experiencing the first night of tour fatigue. Lisa didn’t wake up from her nap in the van until 15 minutes to show time, Joe was cranky, I was anxious and feeling far from home, Chuck was awake,*** and John was steady as always. Still, while the crowd was a bit smaller I was genuinely proud of us as I think we put on a pretty good show. A tour driver had just gotten off his own tour, driven 500 miles from Ireland to see us and only got there in time to see the last five songs. And he was thrilled to have seen it at all. Amazing.

Tomorrow is Leicester.

*At least before the Hague finally declared them inhumane and punishable under the war crimes act of 1996.

** They even have a beer brewed specially for them called “Dog on the Roof.” It was not notable.

*** Thus grumpy.

Tour Diary: Cardiff (UK / Day 5)

Salty Snack of the Day: Nothing at all – food was a bit thin on the ground today.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Skiving off – Lisa was talking with a young woman who is of the sort that seems to exude joy, always laughing raucously, in the front room of the Crescent. For some reason began telling a story of school days during the time the gym teacher expected them to run laps. She and a friend were always forging notes and “skiving off.”

 Birds: Mute Swans – Again not particularly unusual except for their shear numbers on the rivers in and around Cardiff.

I walked around the York neighborhood of our host on a perfect sunny morning and found a lovely park with a small canal and various fetching features. As I was walking along most people did not make eye contact, but when a very old gentleman came along on a scooter he looked right at me so, I bid him a good morning as per tradition. His face split into a broad smile and he proclaimed, “Ah it’s a grand one isn’t it?” That started my day off right.

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It was a long drive to Cardiff and at our first stop Ollie said the van was acting wonky so he called a mechanic to take a look. Within ten minutes a yellow AA van pulls up. What the hell is this? How is such service possible? And then the man gets out and is so jolly and downright silly that we were all under the illusion that we were already fast friends. He proclaimed the van fit, and although that wasn’t exactly true, when we asked to get a picture with him he bent over and began patting the engine saying, “ Better look busy then hadn’t I?”

For weeks, or more likely months, my son and I had been discussing the fact that Dr. Who was filmed in Cardiff and that the official Dr. Who museum was located there. He is a fan, as so many of his age are. He’s drawn me in as well and promised I would do my best to get there. With traffic and the engine troubles we arrived in Cardiff at 4:00. Everyone was kindly willing to run out to the museum but when we looked at the itinerary we were intended to load in at 4:00. I was sad to let him down, but the shows are the reason we’re here and sometimes that’s just the way Bruce Hornsby is.

Cardiff on a Saturday is apparently already a lively place, but this day in particular promised to up the ante. The Principality Stadium was hosting the four Welsh rugby teams in a two game tournament and we were told 70,000 people would be showing up. Unfortunately this meant that the road leading up to our venue was closed and we would have to carry our gear about half a mile. The promoter had rented amps so all we had to carry were guitars, cables (leads) and whatever merch we could manage. Cardiff made an impressive first impression with the Natural History Museum, Town Hall (I think), and directly to our right the Cardiff Castle. It was quickest to cut through the park surrounding the Castle so we followed the moat (I know! Right?) and humped our way to the Moon Club. As we waited for the door to be opened a group of lads who had obviously been drinking all day offered Lisa a hot vodka. There didn’t seem to be any saying no so she and Joe split it. Apparently it’s habanero infused vodka and hot as hell. The made fun of us, but then much more quietly admitted that it had kicked their assess too and that was why they were so willing to part with one.

The venue was standard dark sticky box, spray paint decorations, lights all flashy for the DJ’s etc. The stage was again very small. John’s stool was all but hanging off the stage and I was facing sideways all night. We carried the incredibly heavy road cases containing the rented amps up two flights of stairs and then the sound man informed us he was going to play some music to get the system ready. He went behind the sound board and the apocalypse erupted. The initial sound wave caused a small cascading ripple in the trod upon filth on the floor. Almost simultaneously the pressure wave staggered us backwards. Not wishing to appear weak I pasted a look upon my face I hoped would give the impression that I had just remembered something, that however regrettable, demanded my immediate attention elsewhere. Slowly but surely the rest of the band wandered out, all with the same incredulous question. “Why has he got the music so loud?” After the third full song my spirits began to sag. When finally we began to soundcheck properly he worked with a steadfast, unhurried manner that either indicated a profound dedication to God and country or a plodding incompetence. For some reason as we moved into the third hour since our arrival I began to feel panicky and hopeless. When soundcheck finally ended I just left the band and went in search of food. I realized I hadn’t eaten since morning and was famished. Cardiff has a huge variety of vegetarian restaurants. Far more than any we’d seen so far. Unfortunately the lack of meat must tire them out so much that they all closed at 6:00. It now being 7:00 meant I wandered for half a despairing hour before I found a burrito.

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Thus revived I began my exploration of this beautiful city. Immediately I began to notice large groups of people engaged in hen-dos. Bachelorette parties to us. Apparently it is tradition to come to the city and send the brides to be off grandly. I saw a man in full bridal gown, more enormous inflatable penises than I wanted to count, women from grannies on down lined up to enter a building painted in fuchsia with garish lighting that promised experiences I will forever have to leave a mystery. I saw an entire bridal party in full Disney princess costumes. Mix into this the rugby match letting out and the streets were a riot of happy people. I moved towards the Castle hoping to get a peak inside but it was closed. The adjoining park was open however and just beautiful. The trees and flowers were just different enough to reinforce the feeling of being in a different place. I walked along the canal, wandered through copses of fantastical trees and then, with feet that were now beginning to complain with every step, made to head back to the Moon. I was somewhat impeded in this task but the huge wooden doors that were firmly locked. I look around and saw a sign with a clock indicating the park had closed 15 minutes prior. No bell ringing, no polite announcement, just silently and implacably closed. I looked at the high walls, moats, canals and various other classic impediments to movement and thought, “Oh for fuck’s sake.” I looked around and saw a few other stragglers who seemed not only calm, but possibly entirely unaware of the disaster that had befallen them. I began to walk back into the park and spied two skateboarding youths moving with some purpose, so I decided to follow them. When they got to the next set of big wrought iron gates they clambered over like teenaged spider monkeys. Since I am no longer either of these I continued to travel the outer perimeter wondering at what point I was going to have to inform the band of my predicament. I had, with the false firm conviction of a man not being quite honest with himself, decided I would indeed scale the next set of gates if needs be. However, anti-climactically upon approach there was an obvious path tromped through the brush to the right of the gate and I scampered out like the tenth child of a Catholic mother.

IMG_2243I got back just in time to set up and off we went. We played to probably 40 people, which felt just fine. At the end of the show they were all shouting out songs so once again there was the surreal feeling of being so far from home and yet preceded by our music. The sound was spot on. Ollie said easily the best of the tour. So it is good to allow people their own way of doing things. It’s hard to complain about a man who is thorough, conscientious, and skilled at his job.

If I were to complain, however unbecoming that might be, it would have to be about the men’s bathroom. The stickiness of the floor was not only noisome but required conscious effort to move one’s foot from place to place. Still, that was nothing compared to the smell. When you entered you would began to swat at the air as if being set upon by some unseen attacker. The best I could come up with was as if the entire urine output of say, a Wembley stadium audience attending the World Asparagus competition, was boiled down in a pot on the stove into a syrup, and then liberally applied with a spatula to the inside of your nose.

The streets outside were wall to wall revelers and everyone was in high spirits, perhaps even figuratively as well. I saw no poor behavior except one lout verbally abusing a street musician. As he wasn’t a mime I saw no need for this. The women of Wales are apparently impervious to the cold as the de rigueur outfit for all ages was a very short skirt, very high heels and no coats. The men all had coats, jackets and scarves so take from that what you will. I don’t know how to describe it, and I loathe broad generalizations, but there did seem to be a national character evident. Whether physical or cultural, or more likely much deeper than either, you can tell you are in a country separate from England. I felt as if these might be the people God would call upon to rebuild the world if it were to collapse in upon itself. And that they might just tear it down in celebration all for the chance to do it all again.

Tomorrow is London.

Tour Diary: York (UK / Day 4)

Salty Snack of the Day: Tangy Cheese Doritos – Boring choice I know but I had to compare. Totally different tortilla taste, (cornier) and the flavoring was like they combined nacho cheese and taco seasoning. Meh.

Britishisms Heard Uttered: I feel minging. (with a hard g) Joe, our promoter for this show explaining he hadn’t had a shower that day and need to go home because he felt minging.

 Birds: Greylag (feral) This is like seeing a Canada Goose in a city park. Mr. Magoo could describe one to Helen Keller and she’d get it right. I think my enthusiasm is outstripping my abilities.*

I’m daunted even thinking about writing this day. It was a full one, although to assuage any anxiety I will cut to the end and say a thoroughly lovely one it was.

Short drive to York in the worst weather yet. I tried to walk a little of Manchester before we left but was driven back in. Apparently we drove through the Moors. I did notice that the walls changed from hedgerow to stone and the scenery was rolling and far more dramatic. It was breathtaking really.

IMG_2103Into York. Our venue was just outside the wall in a place called the Crescent WMC, which stands for Working Man’s Club. If you look it up online it’s called a Community Center now and immediately called to mind a VFW hall or maybe the old community centers you find in Cleveland or places where northern Europeans settled. We walked into the front room and my eyes went immediately to an old looking wooden machine higher than a pool table but much smaller, with green felt and nine bumper pool looking holes. The manager of the place happily began explaining the intricacies of Pub Billiards to me. There are three pins that you must not knock over. You attempt to knock other balls into the holes and depending which one you hit the ball returns in one of many slots at your waist telling you what you what you scored. You keep going until you don’t manage to touch another ball, but if you knock over a pin you lose all your points from that turn. I could go on, but rest assured it should be the pub sport of Kings. Apparently the machines are all hand made and thus unique. There are only five left in York and if you play one you can get a stamp in a book. When you’ve played the fifth machine you get a free pint no matter which pub you happen to finish up in.

IMG_2167At this point I have to decide how interested I think anyone is in my touristy activities, because I turned my ass immediately to my bandmates, who would undoubtedly squander time like a Kennedy heir, and went straight to the Roman wall and began walking. York has an intact wall that completely surrounds the center city. The history of this place is Barry White deep and completely fascinating. I did a lap around the Yorkshire Museum seeing Viking, Norman, and Roman artifacts of a condition unparalleled to any I’ve seen. I circled the Castle with its beastly rainspouts and delicate spires. I moved quickly through the meandering roads with an eye on the time. I had left the band exactly one and a half hours before load-in, and I’m aware my wanderings are tolerated inasmuch as they don’t slow up the works too grievously. I found myself at a different gate than the one I had entered and realized my sense of direction had completely given up and gone to have a drink long before of me. A historical metal map showed I was on the other side of the city and had 20 minutes to get back. I had to engage the sat. nav. (bonus lingo!) or I might still be there. After soundcheck and a delicious dinner of Italian, I walked the wall in the other direction. I headed back towards the Micklegate by keeping the river to my left until I came to the bridge that would lead me back. Thus with my ability to self-navigate restored I got back to the WMC with time to spare. York is ridiculously photogenic and to my eye seemed to strike a decent balance between kitschy tourism and good historical preservation. I would love to spend a few days there with my wife someday. It seemed rather monied so I ask about this to one of the members of the opening bands. He said that outside the walls regular folk can get along quite nicely.

The hall where we played was good-sized with a dance floor and decorative triangular banners strung back and forth from the ceiling. The stage was comfy and big enough to move around on. I took full advantage executing my first successful pirouette into a split since I started working on it, lo these many long years. (Thanks Percy- you were right!**) We had perhaps 100 people, maybe a bit less. Quite a big crowd for us in these new parts. The audience here thus far are a little quieter but seem to listen more intensely. Afterwards, the appreciation was once again generous and lovely to hear. We met so many genuine characters in and around the Crescent. Joe (“it’s all sorted”) Coates, our promoter, all pea coat lanky, talking as if his back teeth are always touching, Bob, the manager who once played the second best Pub Billiards player in the country, the delightful young lady who uttered tomorrow’s Britishism.

IMG_2178 We ended up the night staying at a friend of George’s who ordered us pizza and was a generous host. The list pictured is one of his children’s who decided to rank everything they ate that day from most to least crunchy.

Tomorrow is Cardiff.

*Potential epitaph

**My trainer, instructor, mentor, and friend who died last year when a small fish bone lodged in his colon, creating an abscess that became septic. He left behind two neon tetras – now since passed.

Tour Diary: Manchester (UK / Day 3)

Salty Snack of the Day: Mr. Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps -original seasoning style (Maybe the perfect chip. Screw you – I’m in complete control of my hyperbole)

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Britishisms Heard Uttered: Ticketyboo – The word uttered by the delightful Michelle, producer of Marc Riley’s show, before she took our picture. Knocks saying cheese into a cocked hat.

Birds: Starling (the bastards)

It was around a three-hour drive to Manchester. We’ve gotten into the habit of stopping at the rest stops that have Marks & Spencer shops. The food there is amazing, fresh, and way better than even like a Panera back home. I had a Wensleydale and carrot chutney sandwich today and a Ploughman’s yesterday. Chuck and Lisa had brought back such horror stories of eating from their duo tour I was quite prepared to live on the bits of moss I could forage with the occasional rind of cheese thrown in. There’s been a Costa coffee place at every stop and it’s as good as Starbucks. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s highway coffee so expectations managed and such.

Everyone in the band is still in good spirits, (that should last another 2-3 days!* ) jet lag is manifesting itself mostly in not being able to fall asleep easily. However our van is so comfy everyone but me has been napping quite easily. (sleep is for the weak) Enough of that. Now on to Manchester.

IMG_2066We pulled up to the Castle Hotel once again greeted by cold wintry rain. The Castle looks exactly how one imagines a British pub should look. The Pogues were on the jukebox, the pull taps of really good cask beer all lined up, and the room where we were playing looking like a barn with a stage. The two people tending bar said the building was three hundred years old and had been a pub for good portion of it. The bar, with beautiful Rookwood-esque tiles was even older having been salvaged from the old town hall when it was torn down.

We loaded in and met our soundman Keiran and the promoter Jay. No one was in a hurry, whether by inclination or habit, and several lively conversations broke out in the front bar and in the hall (which is what I guess I’ll call the tiny room where we played) about politics. Unsurprisingly, everyone is curious about Donald Trump and what is really going on with him. It was actually fun to talk politics for once as a pursuit of knowledge and perspective instead of the thorny, angry shouting that passes for discourse in the states right now. We assured them that he was not going to be President, but it was interesting to hear their perspectives and how they related it to their outliers in British politics. They seemed very willing to give us (as a nation)the benefit of the doubt, assuming that the news only picked the most salacious bits to broadcast. Unfortunately the examples of bad behavior and shenanigans they quoted barely touched the tip of the iceberg as far as what we hear about ourselves back home. And of course the conversation went to guns. Fortunately I am just as perplexed and dismayed by the ridiculous cultural identification with a machine. Lisa noted as we drove through the countryside how the British live in villages and don’t litter houses on every spot that might sustain wildlife or provide greenspace. It’s as if we in the states want to get as far away from each other as possible but don’t like to travel for amenities, so we fill in the spaces with chain stores. The thought was that maybe, by living in groups, people maintain a connection with each other and are not so inclined to fear and shoot them.

I had a half pint of Black Jesus and took the half hour I had to walk up the block. There were three record stores within three blocks, with the Piccadily being particularly outstanding, multiple vintage clothing stores, and lovely little café’s with vegetarian brekkie’s. I bought an Iron Maiden 12” for my son, went back, soundchecked, and took off for the BBC.

We were scheduled to appear on Marc Riley’s radio show on BBC 6. This is kind of a big deal. It was Marc agreeing to have us on his show that removed the final nail from the coffin preventing us from coming. George, our label man and poor soul tasked with getting us over said that with this appearance we would have enough cachet to get the bookings we needed. Plus, Marc’s show is really good. Add in that he has played in legendary bands and we were genuinely excited.

It was of course raining when we pulled up to a call box outside the BBC. Ollie pressed the button and said who we were. “You’re on the wrong side of the building mate. Pull around.” So we did and went up to the next set of stripy road blockers, pressed the button and once again said who we were. The same man says, without acknowledging he just talked to us, “You’re at the wrong one. You’ll need to back up go to the next one up.” Ollie reverses the van the wrong way up a one-way street and we steer towards the next box. Once again we announce ourselves and the very same disembodied voice says someone will right down to open the door. Nothing. It was as if we’d never spoken. I think he was embarrassed for us and was hoping we wouldn’t notice the whole affair and thus spare us our shame.

The BBC building was modern looking and seemed somewhat shiny. Of course we were offered tea and then piled into the studio to set up. I can’t tell you how pleasant and professional the engineers have been so far. And when I opened up the case for the Rickenbacker, Marc and the engineer’s assistant gathered around and made appreciative noises. Which made me feel a bit puffed up.

After soundcheck we recorded a version of “Ceremony” for a different program and went to wait in the sitting area where the tea was. We were chatting with Marc when he brought up a certain musician in the past who had been caught being illicit in the BBC bathrooms. He didn’t tell us the name but began giving clues. Chuck, with his encyclopedic knowledge of records and bands ran through the obvious choices and didn’t guess it. If you know Chuck you’ll know it killed him to the point of obsession. Marc was tickled by the whole thing and it was delightful to watch these two just shy of brilliant men talk and jape about rocknroll.

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I got to pose in front of a TARDIS, had my cheese monged by a Canadian, and then we performed live on the show. What a wonderful experience.

Quickly back to the Castle where we piled onto a stage the size of a commemorative postage stamp. Joe was placed facing sideways, I was with my back against the amps and could not move in any direction save up and down without smacking someone. It was a sold out show in a room the size of a generous living room but it was also our first show with people who come to see us. After a very sweaty, very fun show, the emotions people brought to our conversations was almost overwhelming. Several stories of how our songs had gotten them through rough patches, or how they had found us in some obscure corner of the internet and couldn’t believe we’d come to their town. We were all very moved by the whole day.

Tomorrow is York.

*Remember people, optimism is a choice!

Tour Diary: Gateshead (UK / Day 2)

Salty Snack of the Day: Reggae Reggae Groove Cut Crisps (kinda spicy barbecue)

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Nothing classic but I did hear someone say, “It was so small I’d need a microscop.” Which was nice. I got the sense she was referring to a man which is even better.

Birds: Wood Pigeon, Pied Wagtail (so getting better a bit)

The sheep all have baby lambs! You can’t even imagine. And there are fields after fields covered by golden rapeseed in full bloom. Apparently it’s used to make canola oil and has become quite the cash crop. I also read online that Japanese tourists travel just to gaze upon them. Stupid Sting.

IMG_2050 (1)It’s a six-hour drive to Newcastle and it was a lovely introduction to the English countryside. So green, and parceled out in lovely asymmetric, hedgerowed fields liberally dotted with the aforementioned sheep. It turns out we’re playing in Gateshead rather than Newcastle. They lie across the river Tyne from each other and seems to be thought of as rather the red-headed stepchild of the two. There was a driving wet snow greeting us and even the locals were complaining about the weather. As we were opening up for Shonen Knife we expected the venue to be nicer than per usual but not this nice. We were to play the small room of a much larger venue called the Gateshead Sage. The orchestra performs in the big hall and a local said with evident pride it is considered to have one of the best six acoustics in Europe. It was a modern looking building with the exterior being three large glass undulating bubbles facing the river. The inside atrium looked like the prow of a cruise ship. We had our own dressing room with tea and coffee waiting. We also had an hour until soundcheck so Lisa and I walked out into what was now a downpour and walked to the Baltic Center for Contemporary Arts building. A massive converted flourmill that was gorgeous to look at as well. We had no time to see the museum but the gift shop was worth the trip on its own, what with the many incarnations of the northern angel one could buy. We had passed the northern angel on the way up. It’s a huge steel statue that looks like an airplane set on its tail but is a famous landmark much in the way touchdown Jesus was in southern Ohio. It was built either with a purer heart or at least sturdier materials as it has yet to be smighted by lightning.*

Shonen Knife’s very thorough soundcheck had us waiting another hour but the crew and staff of this place were so uniformly pleasant and professional it was a joy. Well waiting is never a joy but it was an easy way to squeeze in here how wonderful everyone treated us. When we were loading in Lisa asked one of the stage crew where to put some gear and he said, “Wherever you like.” She answered, “You’re the boss – you tell me.” He shook his head looking somewhat mortified and said, “Aah, I’m no one’s boss miss.” The room was a decagon with two balconies, all dark wood with red finishes. When we played later that evening we were bathed in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” worthy lights and smoke. The sound onstage was amazing and getting used to our borrowed gear and different power situations fairly uneventful.

IMG_2041By the time we had a lovely quick dinner in the atrium café (halloumi cheese and pesto toasty!) I had about half an hour to explore. And this is what I was trying to explain to people before we left. Yes we may be going to these amazing place but we may not get to actually see them. I’m ok with it. Of course I would like more time to walk around, but I’m still getting to see things like the coolest drawbridge in the world. The Gateshead Millenium Bridge looks like a bear trap with the two curves connected by thick cables. The lower side is a pedestrian bridge which is the part that gets raised by presumably huge motors coiling up the cables inside and underneath the walkway. Standing over the Tyne River with Newcastles spires on one side and the big modern Sage on the other was wonderful. And then it was time to play. While walking back along the river there were little plaques inset into the ground celebrating local heroes. One of them mentioned Sting was from Newcastle. So they’ve got that to answer for.

When we walked out on stage and the sound man, undoubtedly expecting some sort of professionalism, cut the music immediately. The audience stared at us stonefaced and utterly silent while we checked our tunings. We had our fumbles but played OK. The audience warmed up a bit but honestly they were mostly kids, and as Chuck said, “If I was a kid and saw a bunch of greybeards walk onstage I’d be dismayed too.” The best part of the evening was three young men who stood right up against the stage and banged on the floor to the beat and applauded everything. After our set they began discussing our setlist and I went over to tell them what changes we had made and they shouted up, “You guys were monumental! Us three are in a band too. He’s the bassist.” I shook their hands and we talked Rickenbacker basses for a minute. They made my night. Not because they liked our set but because they had that joyous fire in their eyes. Just soaking up everything about rock that they can. I bet they go see every band that comes through.

Tomorrow is Manchester.

*Look up Touchdown Jesus or Big Butter Jesus and you should find it.

Tour Diary: England (UK / Day 1)

Salty Snack of the Day: Strong Cheese and Onion Potato Crisps (really good)

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Wanker (in regards to a televised football player’s performance on the pitch)

It is my first night in England and I am sitting in a pub called the Spotted Dog, surrounded by locals gathered around televisions suspended in the four corners, watching Manchester City play Real Madrid. I truly know nothing of soccer, (yes I know what it’s really called) but you’d have to be dead not to get somewhat swept up in the aggrieved hollering and tortured groans. The weird thing is I think they’re rooting for Real Madrid, but that doesn’t make sense, so I’m just trying to be a fly on the couch and write.

We arrived at 10:30 this morning after leaving NYC at 11:00 the night prior. The weeks leading up to departure were one unbroken string of heartburn filled days. We’re a band of worriers and getting everything figured out, from work visas to which equipment to bring and which to rent, to the daunting amount of work needed to be done in order to leave work, was a suppressant to the otherwise steadily growing excitement. I have described in the past the cataclysmic moment when my brother’s best friend brought Quadrophenia over and my life shifted into an obsession that consumed high school. You can’t love the Who and not fall in love with Pete Townshend’s England. I got a full-size Union Jack that adorned a wall of every room in which I slept through college. My first band gave several thousand dollars, earned $50 at a time in coffee houses and bookstores, to an English booker who swore he could get us shows over there. Of course he disappeared as the coffers ran dry having booked not one show. Wussy has attempted to get over here multiple times but the interest, and thus money, was never there. The best we could do was send Chuck and Lisa to perform as a duo and hopefully raise our profile a bit. Even this trip is not guaranteed of even breaking even. But getting to not only visit, but actually play rocknroll in the land of so many of my heroes is a big, emphatic check on my increasingly short list of unfulfilled musical dreams.

We drove to NYC because direct flights were so much cheaper that even adding in hotels and long-term parking it was still much better than flying from Cincinnati. Getting six people with instruments checked and through security went surprisingly smoothly after all the worry. Of course we still ended up paying well over $600 extra to check everything. We had to two hours to kill at the gate so we all got giggly drunk, (except Chuck) which is something we rarely do as a band. Apparently airplanes have gotten futuristic since the past. The windows did not have shades. Instead there was a button that dimmed the window like those eyeglasses that become sunglasses when you go out into the sun. The one thing the future has not accomplished is making those glasses look cool. They’re not sunglasses and frankly are an advertisement for celibacy.

One of the key differences in touring the UK is that you rent a van with a driver. Another Cincinnati band is over here at the same time as us and they chose to self-drive. They got into an accident within days. A small experiential sampling I know, but the reduction in stress, as well as the potential loss of life and limb, are worth it. Our driver is named Ollie and he seems to possess the requisite patience needed to make a living driving the likes of us around. This is a good thing seeing as he’s going to be living with us for almost three weeks.

We went to meet George at his flat* and were offered tea and cakes. Because yes. I don’t like tea but I’ve always assumed that the British did it better. Seeing as our cultures are so similar in so many ways I reasoned that they couldn’t all have succumbed to a mass hysteria of poor taste could they?** I agreed to a strong tea with milk and it was lovely. Apparently it was Yorkshire tea, but regardless, well done there.

The apartment (!) was right next to the Olympic village from a few years back so I walked along a canal to take a look. The first bird I see is a mallard. Like I flew across an ocean to see a fucking mallard. The weather was fetchingly British in that within an hour it snowed, rained, was windy, and sunny. The next bird I see is a Coot. We have those too. I walked past the Olympic stadium, the swimmy place, and a cool vertical intestine that apparently was used to broadcast the circus to the opiated masses, (I actually quite like the Olympics) and then I saw a regular old pigeon. So obviously this country is screwing with me.

Then to our hotel, which was right off the highway and adjacent to a town called Barking. I’m not sure even the citizens of Barking would consider their town a great shakes, but I have to also assume they would never tire of putting the word barking in front of everything. Barking Hotel, Barking Town Hall, Barking Folk Festival to name a few. I did walk through the Barking Abbey ruins, which was really just a half-foot high wall in a small green that looked like an architects drawing for an abbey. The best part was the abbey was first constructed, with no apparent sense of irony, in the year 666 before it was sacked by Vikings. It was there I saw my first non-American bird: a blackbird. Small succor indeed.

Tomorrow a six-hour drive to Newcastle to open up for Shonen Knife. Can’t wait to play a show.