Thursday, August 2, 2018 – in a van headed . . . north?
Thursday, Thursday, Thursday! Good people of the internet, The Hot Seats are moving again! Like the great leviathan, we emerge from the deep, awakened by some cosmic disturbance. Could it be the geopolitical storms a’brewin’? Could it be the silent cries of the world, demanding more wild hillbilly gesticulations? Could it be the deep hunger for doner meat? It’s probably the last one. Regardless of the method, that cat is skinless and ready for its ritual and we are once again on a UK tour.
We’re just over the 1 week mark of our 20 day excursion, leaving Liverpool and heading for Kilbarchan, our old stomping grounds. We look forward to seeing many familiar faces and eating some familiar curries!
We began our tour down in the deep south of England at the Beer and Bluegrass Festival in Poole. I like a festival that doesn’t mince words. No need for a crafts area or waterslide, the sign says “Beer and Bluegrass.” Look one direction, it’s a tent full of 30+ real ales, turn 180°, there’s a stage with a variety of bluegrass acts. Done. We had the pleasure of meeting and picking with a whole . . . well, what do you call a conglomeration of string band musicians? A gaggle? A jumble? I’m going to say a tangle. We met a tangle of young and highly energetic bluegrass pickers from all over the UK and Ireland and, I must say, they seem to be growing them well over here. Of special note were our new pal’s the Agnew family – Reuben, Benjamin, and Tabitha – who were members of about 60% of the bands at this festival. The festival, put on by a very fun man named Martin, culminated with a big superjam, led by us, featuring the Agnews, plus fiddlers named Lori and Kieran, a great dobro picker whose name I’ve lost, and an American singer from Portland named Wesley Randolph Eader, who has a fabulous voice and writes great, Prine-y songs.
It was a fun weekend of shows, highlighted, for me, by the surprise presence of my father, PF Senior (you probably didn’t know I was a Junior, well, it’s complicated). In addition to getting to play some music, we took the opportunity to explore the Jurassic Coast, seeing some cool geology (if you believe in that kind of thing) and lovely coves and blowholes. There’s a bit of a heat wave going on here right now, and the English people were out in full, showing off their sun-hidden torsos and reclusive legs.
On day 3 of the festival, we were reunited with our own personal UK Sherpa, the one and only Gerry Roche. Feels so good to be back in the van again. We know that Gerry drives a lot of bands around, and that each band must have their own special relationship with him, but I do wonder if any other band has the properly foul sense of humor and thick skins to truly appreciate him as we do. Gerry Roche, a man of his own time, not made for the #MeToo era, formed from his own mold. It’s good to see him.
We spent a few days languishing in Yorkshire at our friends Jane and Paul’s house. For a full appreciation of our benefactors, see past blogs. I’ll only say that, perhaps there’s something about this band that signals to kind-hearted people “take us in, feed us and let us use your laundry machine, for we are tired, hungry, and grubby.” It must be genetic – the same pheromones given off by puppies, baby humans, and all manners of small and helpless things. You know what they say, flaunt it if you’ve got it!
We managed to get a night of music in at the Quakerhouse in Darlington, and were once again treated like old friends. We do enjoy all the types of gigs we get to play – both the well-appointed theaters with respectful audiences, the large-stage festivals with dancers and picnic-ers, and the small pubs where the audience is quite literally right on top of us and we are handed more drinks than we asked for, without fail. Thanks to Shelly for hosting us again!
Yesterday, we travelled across the country. First to Liverpool where we played a short set on BBC Merseyside with Jenny Lee Summers. As a radio person, I love every opportunity we have to visit any BBC studio – they are always so well run and efficient. Jenny was a great host, and, much to our surprise, was well-versed in the world of old time and bluegrass music! Our visit to downtown Liverpool was capped by our very own Edward receiving a littering ticket from a local constabulary. OK, yes, Ed shouldn’t have tossed his butt on the sidewalk, no one is arguing this, however . . . it’s not like Liverpool’s streets are immaculate. Being a good citizen of the world, Edward paid his fine ASAP (much to the general feeling of “well, what are they really going to do about it”) and has vowed ever throwing anything onto the ground again!
From there we hoofed it to Southport for our gig at the Atkinson Theatre. Southport is a breezy Victorian beach town, complete with fun houses and amusement parks. Jake, Ben, and I took a short walk out a long pier. It must have been low-tide, as there were miles of exposed sand and mudflats, extending very far out. As you may remember from my 2008 publication “Spatial Trends in Tidal Flat Shape and Associated Environmental Parameters in South San Francisco Bay,” the convexity/concavity of tidal flats is largely determined by their exposure to wind/wave energy, as opposed to strictly tidal forcings. I’d say, from a glance, there’s not much wave action here. I’d have to take some measurements to know for sure . . .
The gig was a good’un. Apparently, the Atkinson had suffered some water damage recently, and we were put into a different, slightly larger, room as a result of there being a GIANT HOLE in the middle of the stage in the original space – a possible setback to say the least. Nonetheless, the crowd was sufficiently large and energetic to make us feel right at home. Thanks to Colin for putting on a great show!
We’ve been trying out a bunch of new material at these shows. Our new album, Stupid Mountain Too Big, represents the first time that we actually came to the studio with new music, as opposed to playing songs out for years and then laying them down on an album. As such, many of these numbers are undergoing the natural mutation that occurs as we get comfortable in them – stretching them out, flipping parts over to find the cool side, etc. Much of this material is a little more sincere than our past work (at least it seems so to me, and I’m the one who wrote most of it). Turns out, it’s easier to make eye contact when you’re being ironic than when we actually mean what you say! How do people do it?
Hopefully, you, dear reader, will get a chance to hear some of this music live! However, if you are in one of the myriad of places we are NOT visiting, I do hope you’ll check it out online. I, for one, am pretty proud of the album, and think that it represents a slight change from our normal fare (though never fear, there is plenty of snark on there as well).
OK, there’s a crossword puzzle waiting for me that isn’t going to solve itself (thanks for nothing, Elon Musk). From the exciting and sexy world of the tour van, I bid you adieu!
Next time: how to be an American abroad in 2018 (hint: lots of apologizing).