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.