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.