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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
- 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.