Salty Snack of the Day: Mr. Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps -original seasoning style (Maybe the perfect chip. Screw you – I’m in complete control of my hyperbole)
Britishisms Heard Uttered: Ticketyboo – The word uttered by the delightful Michelle, assistant to Marc Riley I believe, before she took our picture. Knocks saying cheese into a cocked hat.
Birds: Starling (the bastards)
It was around a three-hour drive to Manchester. We’ve gotten into the habit of stopping at the rest stops that have Marks & Spencer shops. The food there is amazing, fresh, and way better than even like a Panera back home. I had a Wensleydale and carrot chutney sandwich today and a Ploughman’s yesterday. Chuck and Lisa had brought back such horror stories of eating from their duo tour I was quite prepared to live on the bits of moss I could forage with the occasional rind of cheese thrown in. There’s been a Costa coffee place at every stop and it’s as good as Starbucks. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s highway coffee so expectations managed and such.
Everyone in the band is still in good spirits, (that should last another 2-3 days!* ) jet lag is manifesting itself mostly in not being able to fall asleep easily. However our van is so comfy everyone but me has been napping quite easily. (sleep is for the weak) Enough of that. Now on to Manchester.
We pulled up to the Castle Hotel once again greeted by cold wintry rain. The Castle looks exactly how one imagines a British pub should look. The Pogues were on the jukebox, the pull taps of really good cask beer all lined up, and the room where we were playing looking like a barn with a stage. The two people tending bar said the building was three hundred years old and had been a pub for good portion of it. The bar, with beautiful Rookwood-esque tiles was even older having been salvaged from the old town hall when it was torn down.
We loaded in and met our soundman Keiran and the promoter Jay. No one was in a hurry, whether by inclination or habit, and several lively conversations broke out in the front bar and in the hall (which is what I guess I’ll call the tiny room where we played) about politics. Unsurprisingly, everyone is curious about Donald Trump and what is really going on with him. It was actually fun to talk politics for once as a pursuit of knowledge and perspective instead of the thorny, angry shouting that passes for discourse in the states right now. We assured them that he was not going to be President, but it was interesting to hear their perspectives and how they related it to their outliers in British politics. They seemed very willing to give us (as a nation)the benefit of the doubt, assuming that the news only picked the most salacious bits to broadcast. Unfortunately the examples of bad behavior and shenanigans they quoted barely touched the tip of the iceberg as far as what we hear about ourselves back home. And of course the conversation went to guns. Fortunately I am just as perplexed and dismayed by the ridiculous cultural identification with a machine. Lisa noted as we drove through the countryside how the British live in villages and don’t litter houses on every spot that might sustain wildlife or provide greenspace. It’s as if we in the states want to get as far away from each other as possible but don’t like to travel for amenities, so we fill in the spaces with chain stores. The thought was that maybe, by living in groups, people maintain a connection with each other and are not so inclined to fear and shoot them.
I had a half pint of Black Jesus and took the half hour I had to walk up the block. There were three record stores within three blocks, with the Piccadily being particularly outstanding, multiple vintage clothing stores, and lovely little café’s with vegetarian brekkie’s. I bought an Iron Maiden 12” for my son, went back, soundchecked, and took off for the BBC.
We were scheduled to appear on Marc Riley’s radio show on BBC 6. This is kind of a big deal. It was Marc agreeing to have us on his show that removed the final nail from the coffin preventing us from coming. George, our label man and poor soul tasked with getting us over said that with this appearance we would have enough cachet to get the bookings we needed. Plus, Marc’s show is really good. Add in that he has played in legendary bands and we were genuinely excited.
It was of course raining when we pulled up to a call box outside the BBC. Ollie pressed the button and said who we were. “You’re on the wrong side of the building mate. Pull around.” So we did and went up to the next set of stripy road blockers, pressed the button and once again said who we were. The same man says, without acknowledging he just talked to us, “You’re at the wrong one. You’ll need to back up go to the next one up.” Ollie reverses the van the wrong way up a one-way street and we steer towards the next box. Once again we announce ourselves and the very same disembodied voice says someone will right down to open the door. Nothing. It was as if we’d never spoken. I think he was embarrassed for us and was hoping we wouldn’t notice the whole affair and thus spare us our shame.
The BBC building was modern looking and seemed somewhat shiny. Of course we were offered tea and then piled into the studio to set up. I can’t tell you how pleasant and professional the engineers have been so far. And when I opened up the case for the Rickenbacker, Marc and the assistant gathered around and made appreciative noises. Which made me feel a bit puffed up.
After soundcheck we recorded a version of “Ceremony” for a different program and went to wait in the sitting area where the tea was. We were chatting with Marc when he brought up a certain musician in the past who had been caught being illicit in the BBC bathrooms. He didn’t tell us the name but began giving clues. Chuck, with his encyclopedic knowledge of records and bands ran through the obvious choices and didn’t guess it. If you know Chuck you’ll know it killed him to the point of obsession. Marc was tickled by the whole thing and it was delightful to watch these two just shy of brilliant men talk and jape about rocknroll.
Quickly back to the Castle where we piled onto a stage the size of a commemorative postage stamp. Joe was placed facing sideways, I was with my back against the amps and could not move in any direction save up and down without smacking someone. It was a sold out show in a room the size of a generous living room but it was also our first show with people who come to see us. After a very sweaty, very fun show, the emotions people brought to our conversations was almost overwhelming. Several stories of how our songs had gotten them through rough patches, or how they had found us in some obscure corner of the internet and couldn’t believe we’d come to their town. We were all very moved by the whole day.
Tomorrow is York.
*Remember people, optimism is a choice!