I skipped the northeast of England on the summer ‘08 tour, but we managed to squeeze in five shows on this run, all of which were full of old friends and new faces…save one at The Smugglers Inn which was a total disappointment in terms of audience. Perhaps it had to do with the 60 mile-an-hour, gale force winds that night with gusts up to 80mph. Perhaps! One of the shows, at the Washington Arts Centre put on by my old pal Terry Gorman found me signing autographs on the uhm…beer-bulging bellies of a group of very nice blokes, some of whom showed up a couple shows later. See that “event” in the picture section.
Probably the funniest thing that happened on the whole tour was during the northeast gigs when we spent three nights in a Travelodge where we were given a handicapped room. The first night, due to a severe sinus infection I was battling, I apparently snored terribly, so Dominic went to the front desk to inquire about a room for himself only to be told the place was sold out. Being the enterprising young feller he is, he dragged his mattress into the oversized handicapped bathroom and slept soundly with the door closed till I opened it to use the toilet and stumbled on the mattress in a sleepy daze. “No worries mate”, I heard him say from below which was very confusing. I made my way to the toilet and told him to cover his head since his head was right next to the toilet and in the middle of the night, sometimes my aim isn’t true. The rest of the tour, my snoring was minimal. It’s the little things.
Probably the most overall fab gig was at Porters Listening Room put on by Colin Bradshaw and Celia Bryce in what use to be the waiting room off the Tynemouth train station. They are both musicians as well and also put us up in their wonderful multi-story home for a few nights around that time. Colin is a doctor and got me some 3rd generation antibiotics which, after 15 days, eliminated my sinus infection. Great venue and great hosts Eve and Mike fed the entire audience at the break with handmade pastries, and we were joined by my old pal Bob Barton on guitar. Hospitality plus…and lots of very cold beer.
At Hull’s Tap & Spile, we were joined by another old pal and fab guitarist Dave Greaves who blasted thru the songs like he’d practiced them for days. Later, his brother MG Greaves joined him for a brother’s duet which was such a treat for us all to see the brothers singing and playing together. The audience was packed from wall to wall. It’s such a reward when everyone comes for the music and the night. I think that’s called “magic”.
My long term Liverpool mate Steve Roberts promoted the next show at a great listening room called The Oakwood in Glossop. Yet another fine crowd with Steve playing a bunch of his songs before Dom and I did our sets. By this time in the tour, Dominic has gotten so good and consistent and relaxed. Why, he’s even having a pint and sometimes TWO before he goes on. That’s something he told me at the beginning of the tour just isn’t his style. Wonder who’s rubbing off on him. Hmmmmm…???
Of the whole tour, I must say the Cottesmore Church gig was the most elegant and beautiful. In a centuries-old cathedral with vaulted ceilings that must have been 150 feet high, 90 people paid 14 pounds each to have a sit down dinner followed by our tightly delivered show. Singing in there was practically a religious experience…particularly when we did One Good Rib…I thought that might bring the vaulted ceiling right down on top of us.
A four hour drive past London the next day down to nearly the end of the world’s Square & Compass where I’ve played maybe ten times…always a unique experience. In the middle of nowhere, right on the edge or the world with France 60 miles away, the people come in droves when I play to soak up the music and the ancient atmosphere of this pub built by Charlie Newman’s grandfather with a tradition carried on by his dad and now Charlie. Charlie and his dad both got the stonemason bug early in life, and Charlie has had a severe interest and involvement in paleontology that finds him five early mornings a week, rain or shine, digging in the coastline walls for turtle and alligator fossils. He showed us under a microscope lots of interesting finds…alligator teeth and the shells of turtles which had been broken up and swallowed by alligators centuries ago. Not only do we get to play in a great environment whilst there, but we also get an education of the ages AND a fabulous breakfast made by Charlie and his lovely wife Kath before setting off to drive thru the gorgeous village of Corf headed for the home of Fiona’s parents where we stayed the night before the next gig.
“FACTS I’VE BEEN TOLD” SECTION:
FYI: Icelandic horses have five ways of moving rather than the standard three ways which are walking, trotting and galloping. They also have “told” which is an uneven and quick leg movement that makes the ride much smoother…and a fifth one I can’t remember.
Also…during the Napolianic war, the French dressed a monkey up in a sailor’s outfit and set it adrift in a dingy to wash up on the shore of Hartlepool, England. The Hartlepudlians held it at gunpoint and ended up hanging it thinking it was a spy dressed in a sailor’s outfit. They’d never seen a monkey before and they became the butt of jokes calling them “Monkey Hangers”.
The London Tavern in Ringwood was an interesting “gladiator” night with a twist. The audience stood about eight rows deep watching and listening to us play our songs and being very responsive after each song. Some pubs have revolving audiences depending on what’s going on in the village/town/ city, and the audience will completely change after each set as this one did.
We stayed the night with Fiona’s parents Bob and Katy Long in their beautiful English tutor home on the edge of The New Forest. Once again…the new forest is a huge section of forest once set aside by a nobleman for his hunting enjoyment. It’s remained pristine with all the animals roaming free and sometimes creating roadblocks on the narrow, two lane road that runs thru the forest. Some of the same families for centuries have kept up the forest and live back up in the woods in this magical place. You can hear songs about it on my Fiona’s World CD.
Off the next day to the south coast, seaside city of Brighton which is a place where I’ve always drawn a crowd when I played at The Greys there. This tour, I played at a new venue called The Latest Music Bar with a great PA in a downstairs listening room it was a very cold and VERY blustery English south coast night. Dominic’s lovely wife Christina surprised him by driving nearly five hours to the gig, got a hotel for her and Dom. I was the guest that night of my good pal Vic Forte who has been putting me up for the last bunch of years I’ve played Brighton.
The Cellars at Eastney Down in Southsea was a last minute, fill in gig that turned into a wonderful gift at a listening venue that has the best acts from the US and the UK. A great PA, a great crowd that listened with deafening silence, which Steve the landlord assured us was an expression of their enjoyment. Some of our “jokes” didn’t go over and when that happens, I always fall back on what I call a “recent” study done in England regarding asbestos and how it’s been determined it absorbs humor. “Soooo…if Dom or I say something we KNOW is very funny but no one laughs, we are sure the building is full of asbestos”. That ALWAYS gets a laugh.
The most interesting part of the Amberly Folk Club gig, aside from how well attended and how well we went down, was our sleeping situation in a centuries old country farm house which use to be a barn. It was freeeezing cold with what seemed to be only a coal burning stove in the kitchen and beds with electric blankets on them in the two bedrooms. After returning from the gig, the house practically had icicles hanging from the exposed beams, and the stove was long since gone cold. Into the electric blanketed beds we went. The next morning as I sat there in my heavy coat collecting my email, our host Jon Wigg came in and commented how cold it was then walked over and turned on an electric wall heater. Hmmmmm… guess I missed that instruction the night before. It was such a magical area waaaay off the beaten path, replete with thatched roof cottages in a perfectly picturesque village.
Meanwhile Dom and I are winding our way toward the end of the tour which, and I’ve said this about the last few tours, has been the best yet. We’ve talked a lot on the road, laughed a lot and come up with our own brand of wacky humor that entertains the two of us if not often rooms full of perplexed yet accepting people. The bubble is a great place to get to live a few months out of each year.
The 12 Bar is a great place to play and is always the flagship gig being right in the midst of London packed with lots of friends and enthusiastic folks. It was special this year, cause Fiona came…which was the first time I’ve seen her since the summer of ‘08. Interestingly, there was another Fiona there who is friends with the group of people Geoff Haves and I know. Geoff joined Dom and me on electric guitar for that night, and we had a rocking little ensemble that gave a new spin to the Tall Texas Tales songlist. We stayed with Geoff that night in his posh E. Molesey estate.
The next night was at the Bar One 10 in the village of Godalming (try to say that a bunch of times fast after about 6 pints of Kronenbourg). That gig and the Amberly gig were booked for me by my recently acquired UK booking agent Julian Lewry who is a real nice guy and someone who, if things work out the way we hope, will give me back about four months of my life by him booking my yearly tour. What a joy that will be. I’ll probably spend that time beating the bushes for gigs in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. Geoff joined us for that at The Shoe Inn as did Janis Haves who sang a couple cool tunes while their son Jamie slept soundly on the bench near the band stand. He’d come along to see us all play but as pre-teens do, he didn’t make it till the first downbeat. We stayed at Julian’s house that night.
We finally had a day off and spent most of the afternoon with Barry Everett who use to book The famous Borderline Club in London. He now has a great radio series called The House Of Mercy which we taped for a January 16th airing at the following URL: http://www.houseofmercy.net/
Barry is a great guy with a wonderful wife named Bex Marshall who is a rocking, big voiced artiste.
Back to spend another night with Geoff followed by the last UK gig. Bob Long and his best friend who I call Roadkill (aka Keith Miller) opened the show for us with a half hour set of authentic Mississippi blues. Bob makes a sojourn to the Mississippi Delta a couple times a year playing in juke joints with the “real deal” down there where the kudzu grows wild and the spanish moss hangs heavy from the live oak trees.
We stayed at Bob’s house that night. He and his wife Katy are Fiona’s parents and have hosted us after two gigs on this tour. It was this night at their house when one of the near disasters of the tour happened. In the middle of the night, there was a VERY loud crashing and thudding that woke Bob, Katie and me up…but none of us got up to see what made the noise. It seemed Dominic, who was sleeping on the third floor, got up to go to the toilet and slipped on the first step and tumbled all the way down the stairs on his bottom. After nearly throwing up at the bottom of the stairs from the frightening experience, he collected himself and made it to the toilet where he lay on the floor recuperating from what could have been a deadly fall. We all had a good laugh the next morning at breakfast…but Dom said his bum hurt when he laughed, so we tried to remain somber for his sake.
After an hour’s drive back to Geoff’s house, Dominic dropped me off and made his way back up to his home in Chorley…and that was the end of the Dom and Bob portion of the tour.
So many highlights to remember that I’ve forgotten, but they can really be summed up in the following sentence that came to me from a fan named Craig after the Washington Arts Centre gig…”Bob…thank you so much for tonight. What a legend. You signed my belly. Keep on rocking”.
Sometimes comments like that just say it all.