Archive for the ‘Tour Diary’ Category
Sunday, January 27th, 2013
It was another after show drive last night: two hours to Warwick, a small town in the Midlands near Coventry. It’s a beautiful and ancient little town gathered around the ruins of a 15th century Abbey and an 11th century castle. We stayed in a small Inn, with Hobbit sized beds and some of us were “visited” during the night…it is just that sort of place. We were blessed with a bit of sunshine this morning so I went for a quick walk through the graveyard and across the muddy Commons. This is a part of the country that has been well trod upon, around every corner is a piece of history, lots of blood and intrigue, acts of courage, cowardice and betrayal. The landscape has a distinct Lord Of The Rings vibe, and sure enough, Tolkien was married in the local church and apparently Warwick was the inspiration for a couple of the towns in Middle Earth.
The gig tonight was on the campus of Warwick University (home of the Anarchist Party in the 1970’s) at the Warwick Arts Center: an ugly little room with beautiful acoustics. We were completely exhausted tonight, but we went with the flow and came up with some beautifully weird moments, sometimes exhaustion is the mother of invention. It was a fun night in front of another excellent crowd and a great way to end this little tour.
This has been a fun and extremely intense week. We fly home tomorrow, but not before we are forced to, once again, tithe a large percentage of our gains to Air Canada….we are in need of a hassle free flight. March will be upon us soon and we will welcome the sight of our big bus pulling up beside the curb. See you all very soon.
Friday, January 25th, 2013
A late night last night and an early morning drive today. We all piled into the Sprinter and headed south to England. It was a beautiful drive through the north country, especially with the hills and valleys covered in snow. Jeff, Marg and I were dropped off at the BBC complex in the old Manchester docklands area, which is fittingly overseen by an enormous picture of Dr Who. The whole area has a distinct “futureworld” vibe about it: I kept expecting to see workers scurrying about in identical colour-coded jumpsuits. The radio show, The Verve, was hosted by a famous BBC personality, Ian McMillan (sp?), and was a refreshing twist on the usual radio performance/interview format. We were joined in the studio by a playwright, a poet and an author and a conversation about words ensued. Unfortunately, our brains were still back in Glasgow, in the bottom of a John Smith’s pint glass, so we just followed along, played our song and did a lot of staring in to space.
The gig tonight was just outside of Manchester in the suburb of Sale. We had no time to look around, but we did pass by the Manchester United stadium on the way to the venue, which is sort of like catching a glimpse of Yankee Stadium or Cowboy Stadium or the Duomo in Milan. It wasn’t exactly a beautiful looking room tonight, but it sure sounded great. We had a very good and very fun night of music….another sold out show and another great audience…all is good in our world.
Thursday, January 24th, 2013
We left the deep freeze of Toronto and landed in the damp chill of Glasgow. I’m not sure which I prefer, but I’d toss them both out for the hot sand of any Caribbean Island….I’d even take a Florida beach at this point. Fuck, I hate the cold.
It was a long journey, 36 hours between sleeps, including a six hour lay-over at Heathrow while BA searched for a plane that could fly. And it was an expensive journey, $1200 in excess baggage fees. But we made it and, as anticipated, fresh pints of John Smith’s were waiting for us at the end of the journey.
I like coming to Glasgow, if for no other reason than the Scots are such a welcoming and friendly tribe. Perhaps it’s the familiarity; there is a lot of Scottish blood running through Canadian veins. I don’t have much of a feel for the city, itself. It doesn’t have the natural charm of Edinburgh, but there is something genuine about it. The gig tonight was part of the three week long Celtic Connections festival, which takes place all over the city in different venues. Tonight we were placed in the Kelvingrove Museum: an enormous Victorian building housing the oddest collection of art and artefacts, everything from a spitfire to a stuffed elephant to a priceless Dali. They used the Great Hall for the gig which probably seemed like a good idea to the person who envisioned the gig, but if they had asked a sound engineer or musician if the room would work with a PA in it, they would have passed on the venue. Stone and marble with a 100 foot high arched ceiling never goes well with a kick drum. It was a nightmare for Jared and not very pleasant for us on stage: a big, echo-y mush. The urban myth about this building is that once it was built the architect came to visit and discovered that it had been built backwards. In his despair he killed himself. I think he came to see a rock show here and just couldn’t handle the mess. On the positive side; the show was sold out and the Glaswegians showed their class and gave us a warm welcome and plenty of support; we also got to listen to John Murry who opened for us and also had to fight the sound but made me want to check out his album; and we got to rummage around in the wardrobe room…always a good time.
Sunday, November 25th, 2012
November 22, 2012: It was a late night last night and an early departure this morning. Pete and John continued their search for ancient demons below Jared’s room, but failed to gain access to their lair. We hung out and talked and drank with some of the local musicians and journalists and music lovers from the area. It’s a very fragmented music scene in Italy, but it’s very passionate. It’s just difficult finding those little pockets of fanatics, but I would have no problem spending a month here, travelling from town to town, searching: so much pleasure to be found in the journey in this country. In the past couple of days I have signed many covers of rare Junkies vinyl, including a mint condition copy of the Hunger Project single….I think we only manufactured about 500 of those and that was thirty years ago. As I said, there are passionate pockets.
We piled in to the van way too early this morning for a drive that was a couple of hours too long. We are all definitely feeling the pain of enjoying a bit too much of Europe after hours. The gig tonight was in the small room at the newly built performing arts center: a nice building but a bit cold and lacking personality. We were told in Rivoli that the tickets for this show were way over-priced and perhaps that is the reason for the small audience tonight. The audience also seemed to be affected by the more formal surroundings and were a little reserved, but we made the best of it and had a decent night on stage. Since it was an “early” show tonight, 8:30pm, plans were made for us to have a late dinner. So at midnight we sat down with the promoter (who treated us like gold) and his wife and a few of his friends at a beautiful little restaurant, tucked away behind the Vicenza’s main square. We were once again wined and dined and didn’t stumble out of the restaurant until 2am: another excellent meal, another night with too few hours sleep.
November 23, 2012: This morning I forced myself to get up a couple of hours before bus call so that I could spend some time wandering around. Vicenza is a very wealthy city, you can see it in the clothes that the locals are wearing, you can see the prosperity in their skin, the young women positively glow. It is also a spectacularly beautiful city with some of the most stunning Renaissance architecture in Italy, with over twenty buildings designed by the Andres Palladio, one of the most influential architects in the history of Western architecture. If you’re lucky enough to be heading to Venice (about 100 miles from here) try and spend a couple of days in Vicenza, you will be happy that you did.
It was a short drive to Rezzato, back toward Milan, a little town on the outskirts of who knows where. There was not much time to explore the new surroundings today and I had little inclination to leave the hotel before soundcheck. The hotel was originally built as a palace by some no-account Venetian count who took a liking to Versailles and wanted his own smaller version in the Italian countryside. Centuries go by and now the building hosts conventioneers and travelling rock bands….so I guess not much has changed when you get right down to it. Ironically, on the day that we stay at the most glamorous hotel on the tour, we play at the crappiest venue: an old movie theater that has seen better days and a dressing room lodged in its basement that was not only disgusting but had the strangest, darkest vibe. Fortunately we had a decent sized audience tonight and they were enthusiastic and engaged from the first chord. They infused us with their energy and we had a great show, an excellent way to end the tour.
This has been a great little jaunt through Portugal and Italy: enthusiastic fans, great food, new places and some excellent music. Tomorrow we make the long trek back to Toronto and start to settle in to the Holiday season. We’ll be back at it in January, unless the world ends on December 21st, so stay tuned and stay safe.
Friday, November 23rd, 2012
We flew from Porto to Milan and sat around at the airport for about an hour while we waited for our van and driver to show up. When he finally arrived he had to immediately take his mandated 45 minute break before we could start out on our two hour journey to Rivoli. So we sat around and waited some more: Italy immediately shrugging her shoulders, cocking her head, as if to say, “slow down, relax, time is measured in centuries not minutes around here.” It’s so good to be back.
Rivoli is a small town in the far North West corner of Italy, in the shadow of the Alps, a few kilometers from Turin. The gig and our accommodations for the past two days are located in a beautiful hundred year old compound that once was this area’s slaughterhouse. True to the period and to the impeccable aesthetic of the average Italian builder, this purely functional compound had a flow, grace and attention to detail that you would be hard pressed to find in North America. The main building, the actual slaughterhouse turned music venue, is a beautifully articulated circular building: it is round for no other reason but for the pleasure of creating a round building, the aesthetic of the art nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century pushed the builders in that direction and one hundred years later it is still a thing of beauty, a pleasure to look at it, walk around and work in. Our rooms were housed in what was once the ice house, which, we were told, had cellars beneath it which extended five levels below ground (Pete and John spent a lot of energy trying to pry open a hatch in Jared’s room to see if these cellars could be explored, but there seemed to be something on the other side keeping that hatch from prying loose….). Another of the out buildings in the compound was the old livestock barn which has been turned into a restaurant: there aren’t enough stars in the Michelin guidebook to describe how good the food at this place is. Upon our arrival the promoter generously treated us all to a true Italian multi-course meal. The steak, sausage and pork was grilled in the courtyard over wood-coals, the pasta and bread was made on the premises, the desserts were the sort of thing that I will fondly dream of for years and the beer was as fresh as any cask ale that I’ve ever had, unpasteurised, brewed locally, and meant to be drunk within a several mile radius of the brewery, not bottled and carted around the world and drunk from plastic cups. And of course the wine flowed freely, but I was concentrating on the beer. We spent a good three hours sating ourselves…there is a reason that the Romans took so easily to Bacchus…man, I missed this country.
The slaughterhouse was abandoned in the 1970’s and sat empty for a few decades, filling up with pigeon shit, until one man came along with a vision to create a space dedicated to music: the playing of music, the recording of music, an archive for Italian folk music, a place to learn about the countries folk music traditions and a repository for musical instruments from around the world. This vision was supported by the local city council and the result is an educational, cultural and entertainment resource for the community and region. It’s an amazing space with a myriad of rooms, each holding a small treasure trove of musical history. The main performance space has been tweaked and lovingly shaped and it has grown from being a nightmare of hard surfaces and crashing sine waves into a live but tuned room. Jared said that it was one of the nicest sounding rooms that he has ever played in with us, which is saying a lot, considering the many multi-million dollar concert halls that we have played over the years. Needless to say we had a great night of music, the audience was intense and passionate, really and truly listening….man I love this country.
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
November 18: There is a leisurely pace to this little tour. Today was a day off and this morning we piled into a small van and headed up the highway to the city of Porto. Three hours later we took up residence at a cafe along the banks of the Rio Douro and settled in to enjoy the perfect weather and this incredible city. The old city of Porto is carved out of the cliffs that rise from the river. Centuries stacked upon centuries. The streets and alleyways create a maze that twists and turns and switches back on itself. The only way to find ones way out is by heading downhill, toward the river. Around every corner looms a dark, haunted looking church, vampires peer down from perches high above the alleyways (not the cute Kristen Stewart/Rob Pattinson variety, but the creepy Klaus Kinski kind). It’s an amazing place. Some of us also sampled one of the local delicacies, some call it a Frenchie, some call it a Drunk Mans Sandwich and some call it something else in Portuguese. I call it disgusting…two pieces of bread, covered in melted cheese, with a fried egg on top and sausage, steak, ham and whatever other scraps the kitchen has on hand, inside. Then the whole thing sits in a putrid, spicy gravy. I guess it was kind of like going to Philadelphia and ordering a Phillie Cheesesteak, but not nearly as good for you …..one does strange things when one is in an unfamiliar time zone.
November 19: The gig tonight was not in the old town but in a more modern part of the city in the Casa De Musica, which is the cities main concert hall. In direct contrast to the cities ancient past this building looks forward, far forward into a galaxy far, far away…it boldly goes where no man has gone before. It is a futuristic mess. The building was designed by Koolhaas in the early 2000s and I suppose it is an attempt at breaking away from the traditional European concert hall, perhaps an ironic twist on a theme, but it is a perfect example of form (gone mad) over function…perhaps it looked good as a scale model. The building is a strange, indefinable, multi-sided shape that sits on a huge undulating marble platform (a skateboarders paradise). Ironically the space age materials used on the outside already looks worn and dated (in many ways the outside of the building reminds me of one of our local Toronto architectural calamities, the ROM chrystal…impractical, ugly and dated within a week of its completion). The inside of the building is concrete, stainless steel, plastic and neon. While walking around inside it’s hard not to flash on scenes from The Andromeda Strain, or expect to meet Lord Vader and a dozen storm troopers coming down the hall. Our dressing room had these fantastic, huge windows jutting out at 45 degree angles over the skateboarders below, it reminded me of the lounge (10 Forward) on the Starship Enterprise (for all you Next Generation fans). Apparently the future is a very uncomfortable place with lots of hard edges and harsh light…although there is the occasional cool window and sliding remote control door to keep one amused. The performance hall itself is enormous, not necessarily in seating capacity but in the actual volume of space….it is vast. Don’t get me wrong, we felt honoured to be asked to play in such a prestigious hall and loved the opportunity to do so. Once again, we had a very appreciative and enthusiastic audience. We had a very good show although not as consistently strong as the night before. What can I say…Portugal rocks….we had a blast….we hope to return soon.
Monday, November 19th, 2012
One would never want to say that this type of tour is “hard work”. That would come across as so much whining and as being completely disingenuous to the systems analyst sitting in traffic as part of his ninety minute morning commute or the business manager cramming herself into the subway on route to another useless morning meeting. Drudgery is hard work and this is far from drudgery. Yes, it takes a lot of planning and frustrating false starts and the occasional leap of faith, and the hidden expenses usually gobble up most of the less-than-expected-income, but once you have partially rid yourself of the nausea of the twenty hour journey and your body stops throbbing, and you get over the $1700 excess baggage fee, you find yourself on top of a wrought iron viewing platform designed by an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel, with a 360 degree view of downtown Lisbon, with lively Rossio Square to the North, Sao Jorge castle sitting high above the city to the East, the skeletal remains of Convento do Carmo sitting within a stones’ throw to the West and the vast port of Lisbon, the one-time commercial center of the world, to the South. It is then that you take a long, deep breath and think…”I am one lucky son-of-a-bitch”.
And to top it all off, once you have finished aimlessly ambling through the streets of Lisbon and marvelling at the centuries old alleyways, nooks and crannies of the Alfama district (Lisbons oldest neighborhood), you get to go and play your music in front of 1200 excited people who have been anticipating your appearance for months. I don’t say this out of any desire for self-aggrandisement, but simply to, once again, say thank you to those of you whose interest and appreciation for what we do has allowed us to live this fairytale existence for the past twenty-five years. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The gig tonight was at the relatively new and exceptionally beautiful Centro Cultural de Belem. A cultural, marble palace built in the late 1990’s, back when the economy allowed for such “frivolities”. It is just up the street from the world famous Belem Patisserie, so we journeyed down there after soundcheck to check out their renowned custard tarts (the secret recipe for which is known by only three people in the world). They were unbelievably tasty…such hardship, but someone’s got to do it. It was a fantastic gig tonight in front of an appreciative and enthusiastic audience: an excellent start to our little working holiday.
Sunday, October 7th, 2012
Oct 4 and 5
We’ve been laying low in Junkieland for the past 6 weeks as we’ve all been busy with getting our kids settled into their various schools; figuring out what kind of teachers we’ll have to be dealing with this year and settling into afterschool programs: all of those little and large, mundane and important details that make up “real” life. This weekend is a quick two show sidestep into our alter-lives, a quick break with reality and then back into it just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving. It hasn’t been all family and kids for the past month. Pete has been hard at work finishing off our new studio (The Hangar) and I’ve been up to my elbows packing up The Clubhouse, our home for the past ten years. One accumulates a lot of crap in ten years: every dark corner and every top shelf piled high with pieces of odd shaped metal and molded plastic. I’d hold some unidentifiable piece up, turn it my hands for a minute or so trying to figure out what it belongs (or belonged) to and then pitch in the trash. My rule of thumb for moving is that if you come across something that hasn’t moved from the same spot for the past ten years then odds are you don’t need it…out it goes. So we said goodbye to The Clubhouse, the room where we recorded One Soul Now, At the End Of Paths Taken, all of the Nomad Series and many, many one-off songs and Latent projects. It has been a good room for us, but it’s time to move on….intimidating but exciting.
This weekend may be a bit of a relief from our “real” lives but there is a lot of work involved. We are doing two shows in Northern Californian, which means we don’t have the luxury of stepping onto our bus and waking up at the gig….flying is never fun and flying with stacks of gear is really never fun. A twelve hour journey including a 3 hour layover in Denver and a few hours trapped on one of United’s Prison Planes (the seating space was so small that you might as well have been in shackles and I swear that the flight attendants were taking time off from their regular jobs as prison guards at the local pen). The final turn of the screw was the 60 mile van ride at the end of the flight to our final destination, Grass Valley, a small town just north of Sacramento.
Grass Valley is a cool little town in a great part of the country filled with cool little towns. It is an old Western gold mining town and it still has that frontier feel as well as a healthy scattering of funky locally owned coffee shops, bookstores, used record stores and all those little homegrown business that make up a thriving community. We had an amazing audience tonight. The show has been sold out for quite a few weeks so there was a nice buzz of anticipation in the crowd and that fed us all night. We had a very good night. After the show we loaded up our vans and made the 150 mile trek to San Francisico; the allure of an empty late night highway, a free hotel at the other end, lots of late night radio, some strong coffee and a little bit of Red Bull, pulling us along.
The reason that we made the effort to come out here for the weekend was an invitation from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. An amazing weekend of music set in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and it’s all free to the public. The festival is in its twelfth year and it has all been underwritten by one man, the late Warren Hellman, a man with large pockets, a love of music and a healthy philanthropic nature. It is an amazing festival and perhaps it could only work in a city as quirky and adventurous as San Francisco but I think if Mitt Romney wants to get elected and if he is really interested in doing something positive for this country he should use his billions to personally underwrite free music festivals in cities and towns all over the country….that should be his sole campaign promise…”If I’m elected I’ll pay for an annual free music festival in every town and city across the country with a population over 60,000. Thank you, good night and God Bless America.”
We had an amazing day. Golden Gate Park is an unbelievable public space filled with giant eucalyptis trees and giant pines, gardens and playing fields, lakes and museums, bike paths, walking trails, it is a spectacular example of visionary urban planning. The weather was perfect, we ran into a few old friends and made a few new ones and we had a very good show in front of a sea of people: all in all a perfect day and a very good weekend.
Tomorrow its back to TO. We’ll continue to set up The Hangar and look forward to a couple of shows near home at the beginning of November and then at the end of month we’ll set off on an adventure across Spain, Italy and Portugal. Stay tuned.
Monday, August 20th, 2012
The last day of a very long eight weeks on the road this summer and we are dead tired. The ride from Northern Vermont to Southern Pennsylvania is not a straight line and there are many, many mountains to wind your way through, over and around: a drive that is not very conducive to sleep. It would have been easy to sit around the bus all day and try to preserve energy for the show, but one quick peek out the window was all that was needed to motivate each of us to do some exploring. This town may have one of the oddest names of all the towns and cities that we have played over the years, but it’s also one of the most fascinating and visually striking. This is an old coal mining town (originally called Mauch Chunk) that became the transportation hub for most of the coal that was being pulled out of these mountains in the 19th and early 20th century. It was an extremely wealthy town back then. The town grew about as fast as it could but it was limited by the size of the holler that it is in so rather than sprawling outward it grew up the sides of the hills and buildings were stacked tightly side by side on the streets. By the mid-20th century the bottom had fallen out of the coal industry and the town was broke. Most of the buildings were boarded up and deserted, which was oddly a blessing in disguise. When money began to flow back into this town there was a 100 years worth of untouched architectural gems, lining the streets and adorning the hillsides. The overall impression is of a small Victorian era town that you might stumble on in Europe, with these odd American flourishes thrown in for good measure. The name change came in the early 1950’s when the widow of Oklahoma native Jim Thorpe made a deal with the bankrupt Mauch Chunk to move his body to the town and erect a memorial to “Americas Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” if they would change the name of the town to Jim Thorpe…makes sense, right? The town slowly got back up off the matt (with the same spirit that drove its new namesake) and is now a bustling tourist Mecca. It’s an amazing micro-world and well worth winding your way through the Poconos to check out.
I spent the afternoon on the Lehigh River which flows right through the town. I had lots of fun with the smallmouth bass…it’s a beautiful river and I could spend many days exploring its banks. The gig was in the original Mauch Chunk Opera House, an old vaudeville theater. It is definitely a haunted place, as is much of the town, with a great and mysterious energy. I think we had our best audience tonight (and there have been lots of great audiences on this run), they were loud and boisterous and full of Friday night. We needed them and they came through in a big way. We had a terrific show.
Tomorrow we head home to spend the last couple of weeks of the summer with our families and then the horrible routine of school days starts again. This has been a great little tour. Part of the reason is the area of the country that we’ve covered and the venues that we’ve played, but ultimately it comes down to the audiences and they have been overwhelmingly generous with their energy and enthusiasm. Thank you, thank you, thank you…without you everything in our world stops. There are lots of tour plans for the coming year and we still have the Nomad Series book on its way as well as a vinyl box set so please keep in touch through our website or Facebook page….we hope to see you soon.
Sunday, August 19th, 2012
August 15th: A beautiful day in a beautiful town. Portsmouth New Hampshire has been around a long time and even a casual walk through its winding streets will reveal some buildings and houses built back in the early 1700s. The city has worked hard at incorporating its’ harbour and waterfront into the towns fabric so that the downtown spills effortlessly into all sorts of public parks and boardwalks and bike paths built along the waterfront. This harbour has been a working harbour for over three hundred years it once saw slave ships and was home to a great whaling fleet: it is still a working harbour which makes it all the more impressive that the town has been able to turn so much of this valuable land into public use. It’s a beautiful, well developed, historic city and worth a visit.
Tonights’ gig was an outdoor show in Prescott Park, down on the harbour. The forecast was for rain but it never came. We had a full day of sunshine and ambling. The show itself was part of a summer long series of free concerts in the park and the beautiful weather brought out a very large and enthusiastic crowd. We had a really fun show (despite a couple of train wrecks in the second set caused by me) and the audience came along for the ride, hell, they were even in the driver’s seat for a lot of it.
August 16th: Another easy and relaxing day…this time up the side of a mountain in northern Vermont. Days on the road don`t get much easier than this one: a beautiful new performing arts center, in the middle of one of those fabricated ski-resort “towns“. We just sat around and breathed in fresh air all day. Al went for a bike ride up the mountain, I checked out a small mountain stream that was gurgling nearby, it was crystal clear but a little too shallow to do any fishing at this time of year, but it was so crisp and clean looking I wanted to breathe it in, it almost looked fake, almost like it was generated to give a bit more authenticity to the “town”. The venue was a beautiful sounding and looking room, lots of money and thought has been poured into its’ construction. Add to all of this an enthusiastic audience and you have the makings of a very good day.