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London – Days 6&7

Salty Snack of the Day: Flame Grilled Spanish Chorizo with Roasted Onion – As a vegetarian I just want you to know what I’m willing to do to bring back the best in salty snack news. The question here is can a potato chip ever live up to such a grandiose name? These tasted like smoked paprika and onion powder. So no.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Mental – You hear this all the times on British shows and it’s my favorite. Overheard on a sidewalk, “That’s completely mental.” Yes.

 Birds: I saw a Great Tit! Looks like the world’s most badass chickadee. Moorhens with babies in the water and some still on the nest. A newly fledged wren. Finally! Good British birds.

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We stayed just outside Cardiff in a hotel right up against the highway. I had about 45 minutes before the slowest among us would be ready, so even though it seemed as if we were surrounded by concrete I figured I’d look around. At the end of the street I saw a football field bearing the sign Albion Rovers Football Club. After reading the plaintive missive spray painted on the side of the club walls expressing that basic human longing for Hoes, Money, and Weed, I found myself on a trail with ridiculously cute families throwing sticks to their dogs. The trail ran along a shallow river and boom, freaking birds everywhere! It was wonderful. With a rolling Welsh field in the distance on the other side of the river, if you turned your back to the highway you were immersed in the countryside. A small distance down the trail, as the stream deepened, I came to a 200 year old lock and realized of course that the river was an old canal. The timbers used to open and close the lock were immense, and as the lock now functioned as a dam, the other side became more of a meandering river with trees arching over on each side. I couldn’t believe my luck. I could have spent my whole day walking this trail, but something possibly even better was waiting for me. Lisa, being her sweet self, had suggested in the van the night before that since we were staying so close to Cardiff why don’t we just go to the Dr. Who Museum in the morning? Interest ranged from none to keen but everyone agreed.

Your visit at the museum starts out with what I guess they would hope was an immersive experience. On the half hour a ticketed group files into a room with smoke and an ominous crack in the wall. Our guide, either an aspiring actress overmatched by the material or an actual tour guide under-endowed with charisma, suddenly began interacting with a videotaped Peter Capaldi, and before we knew it we were in mortal peril and tasked with finding three crystals to save something or other of vital importance. It was obviously designed for children even though there was not one amongst our group. It was as Olie put it, rather cringe-y, but I thought it was delightful nonetheless. We went inside the TARDIS, the floor shook, Daleks threatened us, all the things you’d want to see.

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Then you got to enter the part of the museum containing all the props, monsters, and costumes from the entirety of the series. I love behind the scenes stuff. It’s so much fun to see everyday items spray painted and glued to some metal screen or plywood and knowing that through the camera it would look otherworldly. Plus, it meant the world to me to be able to bring back pictures and cool shit that you can only get there to my son.

But now we were late for London.

We were playing two nights at the Windmill in Brixton. Upon arrival the name became obvious as the park adjacent contained an actual enormous windmill like I’ve never seen in person before. It didn’t seem English so much as Dutchy. So of course I passed it on the left hand side. The next day there was a festival celebrating its 200th anniversary and the whole community came and hung out on the green, drinking some local beer I can’t remember now because the line was too long to get some. It was lovely seeing so many people sitting together with nothing other than a pretty awesome DJ and one tent selling beer. The Windmill (as venue) seemed ancient and gave me the vibe of a place that could host open mic poetry readings* as well as gobbing punk nights. Candles stuck in bottles, a huge wooden bar lit seemingly entirely from the refrigerators, and a tiny stage emerging out of the back corner. We were headlining the Walpurgis Night Festival, but to be honest spent several hours on the sidewalk in front enjoying a rare nice night, lax open container laws, and waiting for the dog to appear. The Windmill is famous for its dog on the roof.** There have been at least three through the years and the current resident is named Lucky. I don’t know breeds but he was a bear of a dog with enormous tan paws, and he lived on the flat roof above the bar, occasionally sticking his head over the side to gaze down. It looked as if there was probably an apartment up there too so hopefully he wasn’t outside all the time. From time to time he would drop a sad little fragment of a ball directly onto the sidewalk in front of the doorway. People would huck it back up and every single time Lucky would catch it in the air. Olie went on a two-day quest to get him a new ball but sadly, like Ponce De Leon, he failed.

And then I saw a grey fox! Just crossed the street like it was nothing and disappeared like a less shooty, more urban Rommel. So I guess nothing like Rommel at all really. Regardless, the only mammal I would be more excited to see would be a mongoose. And your mom.

The club was packed and what with there being something like 12 bands there was no time for niceties. We just jumped onstage, plugged things in, felt the collective sense of chaos hover just above panic and started playing. The soundman was on it though. Which is amazing considering he had mixed a million other bands already and we were all crammed into a dark sticky corner with detritus and cables everywhere. We could hear everything and by the second song it seemed like maybe it was going to be OK. Sitting in the hotel the night before we had watched a documentary on the rise of post-punk synth bands like Human League and Gary Numan. They had shown a brief clip of a very early Clash playing “White Riot” in a punk club with bodies flying everywhere and people losing their minds and I just tried to channel that spirit. And it worked. Mostly because of the good sound but whatever it takes. The audience was standing on benches in the back and at times singing along so loudly Lisa could hear them over her own vocals. That’s a magical feeling.

We were due to play the next night as well, performing “Forever Sounds” in its entirety. So off we went through nighttime London, driving across the Tower (London) Bridge and across the Thames to our home and hotel for the night.

The Windmill Day 2

We returned mid-afternoon having had a nice lie-in and I promptly went to a coffee shop called The Stir to write. While gazing out the window I saw a man walk into the middle of the side street gesticulating angrily and obviously shouting at someone off screen. It went on for a while and when John joined me he said there had to seemed to be some tiff at the chicken place up the street. It was unusual in that he was the first upset Briton I had seen. He left. Came back and yelled some more. Again left. About five minutes later he walked into view with a man sporting those ever so helpful neck tattoos, and they were facing each other and smiling. However the man was holding a knife. A nasty looking bugger too. I just started goggling at John saying “I think he has a knife!” The two men clapped each other on the shoulders and then the man, with a wide swing of his arm, hurled the knife into the trees. I still don’t know what I saw.

The rest of the afternoon is easy to summarize. It was a bank holiday so every veg. restaurant I walked to was closed, I got lost, it rained on me, and two hours after leaving the coffee shop I finally found a restaurant. Pizza, Spanish wine, and a nauseating number of couples in the obviously early delusional stage of infatuation.

Then I went back to the Windmill where everyone in the band was experiencing the first night of tour fatigue. Lisa didn’t wake up from her nap in the van until 15 minutes to show time, Joe was cranky, I was anxious and feeling far from home, Chuck was awake,*** and John was steady as always. Still, while the crowd was a bit smaller I was genuinely proud of us as I think we put on a pretty good show. A tour driver had just gotten off his own tour, driven 500 miles from Ireland to see us and only got there in time to see the last five songs. And he was thrilled to have seen it at all. Amazing.

Tomorrow is Leicester.

*At least before the Hague finally declared them inhumane and punishable under the war crimes act of 1996.

** They even have a beer brewed specially for them called “Dog on the Roof.” It was not notable.

*** Thus grumpy.

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Cardiff – Day 5

Salty Snack of the Day: Nothing at all – food was a bit thin on the ground today.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Skiving off – Lisa was talking with a young woman who is of the sort that seems to exude joy, always laughing raucously, in the front room of the Crescent. For some reason began telling a story of school days during the time the gym teacher expected them to run laps. She and a friend were always forging notes and “skiving off.”

 Birds: Mute Swans – Again not particularly unusual except for their shear numbers on the rivers in and around Cardiff.

I walked around the York neighborhood of our host on a perfect sunny morning and found a lovely park with a small canal and various fetching features. As I was walking along most people did not make eye contact, but when a very old gentleman came along on a scooter he looked right at me so, I bid him a good morning as per tradition. His face split into a broad smile and he proclaimed, “Ah it’s a grand one isn’t it?” That started my day off right.

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It was a long drive to Cardiff and at our first stop Ollie said the van was acting wonky so he called a mechanic to take a look. Within ten minutes a yellow AA van pulls up. What the hell is this? How is such service possible? And then the man gets out and is so jolly and downright silly that we were all under the illusion that we were already fast friends. He proclaimed the van fit, and although that wasn’t exactly true, when we asked to get a picture with him he bent over and began patting the engine saying, “ Better look busy then hadn’t I?”

For weeks, or more likely months, my son and I had been discussing the fact that Dr. Who was filmed in Cardiff and that the official Dr. Who museum was located there. He is a fan, as so many of his age are. He’s drawn me in as well and promised I would do my best to get there. With traffic and the engine troubles we arrived in Cardiff at 4:00. Everyone was kindly willing to run out to the museum but when we looked at the itinerary we were intended to load in at 4:00. I was sad to let him down, but the shows are the reason we’re here and sometimes that’s just the way Bruce Hornsby is.

Cardiff on a Saturday is apparently already a lively place, but this day in particular promised to up the ante. The Principality Stadium was hosting the four Welsh rugby teams in a two game tournament and we were told 70,000 people would be showing up. Unfortunately this meant that the road leading up to our venue was closed and we would have to carry our gear about half a mile. The promoter had rented amps so all we had to carry were guitars, cables (leads) and whatever merch we could manage. Cardiff made an impressive first impression with the Natural History Museum, Town Hall (I think), and directly to our right the Cardiff Castle. It was quickest to cut through the park surrounding the Castle so we followed the moat (I know! Right?) and humped our way to the Moon Club. As we waited for the door to be opened a group of lads who had obviously been drinking all day offered Lisa a hot vodka. There didn’t seem to be any saying no so she and Joe split it. Apparently it’s habanero infused vodka and hot as hell. The made fun of us, but then much more quietly admitted that it had kicked their assess too and that was why they were so willing to part with one.

The venue was standard dark sticky box, spray paint decorations, lights all flashy for the DJ’s etc. The stage was again very small. John’s stool was all but hanging off the stage and I was facing sideways all night. We carried the incredibly heavy road cases containing the rented amps up two flights of stairs and then the sound man informed us he was going to play some music to get the system ready. He went behind the sound board and the apocalypse erupted. The initial sound wave caused a small cascading ripple in the trod upon filth on the floor. Almost simultaneously the pressure wave staggered us backwards. Not wishing to appear weak I pasted a look upon my face I hoped would give the impression that I had just remembered something, that however regrettable, demanded my immediate attention elsewhere. Slowly but surely the rest of the band wandered out, all with the same incredulous question. “Why has he got the music so loud?” After the third full song my spirits began to sag. When finally we began to soundcheck properly he worked with a steadfast, unhurried manner that either indicated a profound dedication to God and country or a plodding incompetence. For some reason as we moved into the third hour since our arrival I began to feel panicky and hopeless. When soundcheck finally ended I just left the band and went in search of food. I realized I hadn’t eaten since morning and was famished. Cardiff has a huge variety of vegetarian restaurants. Far more than any we’d seen so far. Unfortunately the lack of meat must tire them out so much that they all closed at 6:00. It now being 7:00 meant I wandered for half a despairing hour before I found a burrito.

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Thus revived I began my exploration of this beautiful city. Immediately I began to notice large groups of people engaged in hen-dos. Bachelorette parties to us. Apparently it is tradition to come to the city and send the brides to be off grandly. I saw a man in full bridal gown, more enormous inflatable penises than I wanted to count, women from grannies on down lined up to enter a building painted in fuchsia with garish lighting that promised experiences I will forever have to leave a mystery. I saw an entire bridal party in full Disney princess costumes. Mix into this the rugby match letting out and the streets were a riot of happy people. I moved towards the Castle hoping to get a peak inside but it was closed. The adjoining park was open however and just beautiful. The trees and flowers were just different enough to reinforce the feeling of being in a different place. I walked along the canal, wandered through copses of fantastical trees and then, with feet that were now beginning to complain with every step, made to head back to the Moon. I was somewhat impeded in this task but the huge wooden doors that were firmly locked. I look around and saw a sign with a clock indicating the park had closed 15 minutes prior. No bell ringing, no polite announcement, just silently and implacably closed. I looked at the high walls, moats, canals and various other classic impediments to movement and thought, “Oh for fuck’s sake.” I looked around and saw a few other stragglers who seemed not only calm, but possibly entirely unaware of the disaster that had befallen them. I began to walk back into the park and spied two skateboarding youths moving with some purpose, so I decided to follow them. When they got to the next set of big wrought iron gates they clambered over like teenaged spider monkeys. Since I am no longer either of these I continued to travel the outer perimeter wondering at what point I was going to have to inform the band of my predicament. I had, with the false firm conviction of a man not being quite honest with himself, decided I would indeed scale the next set of gates if needs be. However, anti-climactically upon approach there was an obvious path tromped through the brush to the right of the gate and I scampered out like the tenth child of a Catholic mother.

IMG_2243I got back just in time to set up and off we went. We played to probably 40 people, which felt just fine. At the end of the show they were all shouting out songs so once again there was the surreal feeling of being so far from home and yet preceded by our music. The sound was spot on. Ollie said easily the best of the tour. So it is good to allow people their own way of doing things. It’s hard to complain about a man who is thorough, conscientious, and skilled at his job.

If I were to complain, however unbecoming that might be, it would have to be about the men’s bathroom. The stickiness of the floor was not only noisome but required conscious effort to move one’s foot from place to place. Still, that was nothing compared to the smell. When you entered you would began to swat at the air as if being set upon by some unseen attacker. The best I could come up with was as if the entire urine output of say, a Wembley stadium audience attending the World Asparagus competition, was boiled down in a pot on the stove into a syrup, and then liberally applied with a spatula to the inside of your nose.

The streets outside were wall to wall revelers and everyone was in high spirits, perhaps even figuratively as well. I saw no poor behavior except one lout verbally abusing a street musician. As he wasn’t a mime I saw no need for this. The women of Wales are apparently impervious to the cold as the de rigueur outfit for all ages was a very short skirt, very high heels and no coats. The men all had coats, jackets and scarves so take from that what you will. I don’t know how to describe it, and I loathe broad generalizations, but there did seem to be a national character evident. Whether physical or cultural, or more likely much deeper than either, you can tell you are in a country separate from England. I felt as if these might be the people God would call upon to rebuild the world if it were to collapse in upon itself. And that they might just tear it down in celebration all for the chance to do it all again.

Tomorrow is London.

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York – Day 4

Salty Snack of the Day: Tangy Cheese Doritos – Boring choice I know but I had to compare. Totally different tortilla taste, (cornier) and the flavoring was like they combined nacho cheese and taco seasoning. Meh.

Britishisms Heard Uttered: I feel minging. (with a hard g) Joe, our promoter for this show explaining he hadn’t had a shower that day and need to go home because he felt minging.

 Birds: Greylag (feral) This is like seeing a Canada Goose in a city park. Mr. Magoo could describe one to Helen Keller and she’d get it right. I think my enthusiasm is outstripping my abilities.*

I’m daunted even thinking about writing this day. It was a full one, although to assuage any anxiety I will cut to the end and say a thoroughly lovely one it was.

Short drive to York in the worst weather yet. I tried to walk a little of Manchester before we left but was driven back in. Apparently we drove through the Moors. I did notice that the walls changed from hedgerow to stone and the scenery was rolling and far more dramatic. It was breathtaking really.

IMG_2103Into York. Our venue was just outside the wall in a place called the Crescent WMC, which stands for Working Man’s Club. If you look it up online it’s called a Community Center now and immediately called to mind a VFW hall or maybe the old community centers you find in Cleveland or places where northern Europeans settled. We walked into the front room and my eyes went immediately to an old looking wooden machine higher than a pool table but much smaller, with green felt and nine bumper pool looking holes. The manager of the place happily began explaining the intricacies of Pub Billiards to me. There are three pins that you must not knock over. You attempt to knock other balls into the holes and depending which one you hit the ball returns in one of many slots at your waist telling you what you what you scored. You keep going until you don’t manage to touch another ball, but if you knock over a pin you lose all your points from that turn. I could go on, but rest assured it should be the pub sport of Kings. Apparently the machines are all hand made and thus unique. There are only five left in York and if you play one you can get a stamp in a book. When you’ve played the fifth machine you get a free pint no matter which pub you happen to finish up in.

IMG_2167At this point I have to decide how interested I think anyone is in my touristy activities, because I turned my ass immediately to my bandmates, who would undoubtedly squander time like a Kennedy heir, and went straight to the Roman wall and began walking. York has an intact wall that completely surrounds the center city. The history of this place is Barry White deep and completely fascinating. I did a lap around the Yorkshire Museum seeing Viking, Norman, and Roman artifacts of a condition unparalleled to any I’ve seen. I circled the Castle with its beastly rainspouts and delicate spires. I moved quickly through the meandering roads with an eye on the time. I had left the band exactly one and a half hours before load-in, and I’m aware my wanderings are tolerated inasmuch as they don’t slow up the works too grievously. I found myself at a different gate than the one I had entered and realized my sense of direction had completely given up and gone to have a drink long before of me. A historical metal map showed I was on the other side of the city and had 20 minutes to get back. I had to engage the sat. nav. (bonus lingo!) or I might still be there. After soundcheck and a delicious dinner of Italian, I walked the wall in the other direction. I headed back towards the Micklegate by keeping the river to my left until I came to the bridge that would lead me back. Thus with my ability to self-navigate restored I got back to the WMC with time to spare. York is ridiculously photogenic and to my eye seemed to strike a decent balance between kitschy tourism and good historical preservation. I would love to spend a few days there with my wife someday. It seemed rather monied so I ask about this to one of the members of the opening bands. He said that outside the walls regular folk can get along quite nicely.

The hall where we played was good-sized with a dance floor and decorative triangular banners strung back and forth from the ceiling. The stage was comfy and big enough to move around on. I took full advantage executing my first successful pirouette into a split since I started working on it, lo these many long years. (Thanks Percy- you were right!**) We had perhaps 100 people, maybe a bit less. Quite a big crowd for us in these new parts. The audience here thus far are a little quieter but seem to listen more intensely. Afterwards, the appreciation was once again generous and lovely to hear. We met so many genuine characters in and around the Crescent. Joe (“it’s all sorted”) Coates, our promoter, all pea coat lanky, talking as if his back teeth are always touching, Bob, the manager who once played the second best Pub Billiards player in the country, the delightful young lady who uttered tomorrow’s Britishism.

IMG_2178 We ended up the night staying at a friend of George’s who ordered us pizza and was a generous host. The list pictured is one of his children’s who decided to rank everything they ate that day from most to least crunchy.

Tomorrow is Cardiff.

*Potential epitaph

**My trainer, instructor, mentor, and friend who died last year when a small fish bone lodged in his colon, creating an abscess that became septic. He left behind two neon tetras – now since passed.

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Manchester – Day 3

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.

IMG_2066We 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.

IMG_2084I got to pose in front of a TARDIS, had my cheese monged by a Canadian, and then we performed live on the show. What a wonderful experience.

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!

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Day 2 – Gateshead

Salty Snack of the Day: Reggae Reggae Groove Cut Crisps (kinda spicy barbecue)

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Nothing classic but I did hear someone say, “It was so small I’d need a microscop.” Which was nice. I got the sense she was referring to a man which is even better.

Birds: Wood Pigeon, Pied Wagtail (so getting better a bit)

The sheep all have baby lambs! You can’t even imagine. And there are fields after fields covered by golden rapeseed in full bloom. Apparently it’s used to make canola oil and has become quite the cash crop. I also read online that Japanese tourists travel just to gaze upon them. Stupid Sting.

IMG_2050 (1)It’s a six-hour drive to Newcastle and it was a lovely introduction to the English countryside. So green, and parceled out in lovely asymmetric, hedgerowed fields liberally dotted with the aforementioned sheep. It turns out we’re playing in Gateshead rather than Newcastle. They lie across the river Tyne from each other and seems to be thought of as rather the red-headed stepchild of the two. There was a driving wet snow greeting us and even the locals were complaining about the weather. As we were opening up for Shonen Knife we expected the venue to be nicer than per usual but not this nice. We were to play the small room of a much larger venue called the Gateshead Sage. The orchestra performs in the big hall and a local said with evident pride it is considered to have one of the best six acoustics in Europe. It was a modern looking building with the exterior being three large glass undulating bubbles facing the river. The inside atrium looked like the prow of a cruise ship. We had our own dressing room with tea and coffee waiting. We also had an hour until soundcheck so Lisa and I walked out into what was now a downpour and walked to the Baltic Center for Contemporary Arts building. A massive converted flourmill that was gorgeous to look at as well. We had no time to see the museum but the gift shop was worth the trip on its own, what with the many incarnations of the northern angel one could buy. We had passed the northern angel on the way up. It’s a huge steel statue that looks like an airplane set on its tail but is a famous landmark much in the way touchdown Jesus was in southern Ohio. It was built either with a purer heart or at least sturdier materials as it has yet to be smighted by lightning.*

Shonen Knife’s very thorough soundcheck had us waiting another hour but the crew and staff of this place were so uniformly pleasant and professional it was a joy. Well waiting is never a joy but it was an easy way to squeeze in here how wonderful everyone treated us. When we were loading in Lisa asked one of the stage crew where to put some gear and he said, “Wherever you like.” She answered, “You’re the boss – you tell me.” He shook his head looking somewhat mortified and said, “Aah, I’m no one’s boss miss.” The room was a decagon with two balconies, all dark wood with red finishes. When we played later that evening we were bathed in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” worthy lights and smoke. The sound onstage was amazing and getting used to our borrowed gear and different power situations fairly uneventful.

IMG_2041By the time we had a lovely quick dinner in the atrium café (halloumi cheese and pesto toasty!) I had about half an hour to explore. And this is what I was trying to explain to people before we left. Yes we may be going to these amazing place but we may not get to actually see them. I’m ok with it. Of course I would like more time to walk around, but I’m still getting to see things like the coolest drawbridge in the world. The Gateshead Millenium Bridge looks like a bear trap with the two curves connected by thick cables. The lower side is a pedestrian bridge which is the part that gets raised by presumably huge motors coiling up the cables inside and underneath the walkway. Standing over the Tyne River with Newcastles spires on one side and the big modern Sage on the other was wonderful. And then it was time to play. While walking back along the river there were little plaques inset into the ground celebrating local heroes. One of them mentioned Sting was from Newcastle. So they’ve got that to answer for.

When we walked out on stage and the sound man, undoubtedly expecting some sort of professionalism, cut the music immediately. The audience stared at us stonefaced and utterly silent while we checked our tunings. We had our fumbles but played OK. The audience warmed up a bit but honestly they were mostly kids, and as Chuck said, “If I was a kid and saw a bunch of greybeards walk onstage I’d be dismayed too.” The best part of the evening was three young men who stood right up against the stage and banged on the floor to the beat and applauded everything. After our set they began discussing our setlist and I went over to tell them what changes we had made and they shouted up, “You guys were monumental! Us three are in a band too. He’s the bassist.” I shook their hands and we talked Rickenbacker basses for a minute. They made my night. Not because they liked our set but because they had that joyous fire in their eyes. Just soaking up everything about rock that they can. I bet they go see every band that comes through.

Tomorrow is Manchester.

*Look up Touchdown Jesus or Big Butter Jesus and you should find it.

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England Day 1

Salty Snack of the Day: Strong Cheese and Onion Potato Crisps (really good)

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Wanker (in regards to a televised football player’s performance on the pitch)

It is my first night in England and I am sitting in a pub called the Spotted Dog, surrounded by locals gathered around televisions suspended in the four corners, watching Manchester City play Real Madrid. I truly know nothing of soccer, (yes I know what it’s really called) but you’d have to be dead not to get somewhat swept up in the aggrieved hollering and tortured groans. The weird thing is I think they’re rooting for Real Madrid, but that doesn’t make sense, so I’m just trying to be a fly on the couch and write.

We arrived at 10:30 this morning after leaving NYC at 11:00 the night prior. The weeks leading up to departure were one unbroken string of heartburn filled days. We’re a band of worriers and getting everything figured out, from work visas to which equipment to bring and which to rent, to the daunting amount of work needed to be done in order to leave work, was a suppressant to the otherwise steadily growing excitement. I have described in the past the cataclysmic moment when my brother’s best friend brought Quadrophenia over and my life shifted into an obsession that consumed high school. You can’t love the Who and not fall in love with Pete Townshend’s England. I got a full-size Union Jack that adorned a wall of every room in which I slept through college. My first band gave several thousand dollars, earned $50 at a time in coffee houses and bookstores, to an English booker who swore he could get us shows over there. Of course he disappeared as the coffers ran dry having booked not one show. Wussy has attempted to get over here multiple times but the interest, and thus money, was never there. The best we could do was send Chuck and Lisa to perform as a duo and hopefully raise our profile a bit. Even this trip is not guaranteed of even breaking even. But getting to not only visit, but actually play rocknroll in the land of so many of my heroes is a big, emphatic check on my increasingly short list of unfulfilled musical dreams.

We drove to NYC because direct flights were so much cheaper that even adding in hotels and long-term parking it was still much better than flying from Cincinnati. Getting six people with instruments checked and through security went surprisingly smoothly after all the worry. Of course we still ended up paying well over $600 extra to check everything. We had to two hours to kill at the gate so we all got giggly drunk, (except Chuck) which is something we rarely do as a band. Apparently airplanes have gotten futuristic since the past. The windows did not have shades. Instead there was a button that dimmed the window like those eyeglasses that become sunglasses when you go out into the sun. The one thing the future has not accomplished is making those glasses look cool. They’re not sunglasses and frankly are an advertisement for celibacy.

One of the key differences in touring the UK is that you rent a van with a driver. Another Cincinnati band is over here at the same time as us and they chose to self-drive. They got into an accident within days. A small experiential sampling I know, but the reduction in stress, as well as the potential loss of life and limb, are worth it. Our driver is named Ollie and he seems to possess the requisite patience needed to make a living driving the likes of us around. This is a good thing seeing as he’s going to be living with us for almost three weeks.

We went to meet George at his flat* and were offered tea and cakes. Because yes. I don’t like tea but I’ve always assumed that the British did it better. Seeing as our cultures are so similar in so many ways I reasoned that they couldn’t all have succumbed to a mass hysteria of poor taste could they?** I agreed to a strong tea with milk and it was lovely. Apparently it was Yorkshire tea, but regardless, well done there.

The apartment (!) was right next to the Olympic village from a few years back so I walked along a canal to take a look. The first bird I see is a mallard. Like I flew across an ocean to see a fucking mallard. The weather was fetchingly British in that within an hour it snowed, rained, was windy, and sunny. The next bird I see is a Coot. We have those too. I walked past the Olympic stadium, the swimmy place, and a cool vertical intestine that apparently was used to broadcast the circus to the opiated masses, (I actually quite like the Olympics) and then I saw a regular old pigeon. So obviously this country is screwing with me.

Then to our hotel, which was right off the highway and adjacent to a town called Barking. I’m not sure even the citizens of Barking would consider their town a great shakes, but I have to also assume they would never tire of putting the word barking in front of everything. Barking Hotel, Barking Town Hall, Barking Folk Festival to name a few. I did walk through the Barking Abbey ruins, which was really just a half-foot high wall in a small green that looked like an architects drawing for an abbey. The best part was the abbey was first constructed, with no apparent sense of irony, in the year 666 before it was sacked by Vikings. It was there I saw my first non-American bird: a blackbird. Small succor indeed.

Tomorrow a six-hour drive to Newcastle to open up for Shonen Knife. Can’t wait to play a show.

District of Columbiad (or the History of Wussy in our Nation’s Capital)

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When you’re a small band who doesn’t make their living touring, doesn’t fly to shows, have a driver who can drive over night, or in other words if you’re like the vast majority of bands who tour, then some cities or even regions will get short shrift.* For instance, look at the southern United States. (just don’t look too close at our women, guns, flags, cholesterol, and investment in public education) For us however, we have no radio station pushing us down there, no media center that we can hopefully get some press out of, and with it being so far away we can only play the region once every few years. It’s hard to build a following that way. Now look at the Pacific Northwest, which is even further away. KEXP has been playing us since the beginning, so by the time we got there, holy shit there’s people who know the music and want to see us. The more prosaic reality is where you can reach a city within a reasonable amount of time, play there a million times and hope word of mouth with the occasional media mention will result in a fan base. You just grind it out. Sometimes though a city just isn’t into you. (And then Samantha chides, “Carrie, how many times are you going to keep going there? Where’s your pride my fine young mare? It’s time to let the dream go, stand tall, stick your bosoms out, and only make the occasional booty call if the routing really makes sense.”) There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do OK in Pittsburgh. It’s just been like a series of weird first dates every time we play there. Is it them? Is it us? Washington D.C. has been like that too.

  • Shrift is a pleasant word to say. So much so I think it should be used to describe something like the rippling movement a summer dress makes while a woman is walking. Instead it means the absolution or remission of sins by a priest. Which is good too. Not as good as mine but still good. The phrase short shrift was first written down unsurprisingly by Shakespeare, and originally was used when criminals were sent straight from sentencing to the gallows and thus only allowed to receive a quick shrift.

 The First Time

The first time we played D.C. was actually in Arlington, at a tiny place called the Galaxy Hut. This was in the Dawn era and I had fucked up. It was one of those years where Easter fell super early and to be honest I had no idea it moved around at all. I still had small children at the time and Easter was a big deal. Easter hunts, (we have a tradition going way back that whoever finds the egg with Mike written on it wins the Mike Hunt) family, rolls rising symbolically and then crossed with hot white frosting dripping down the sides. And here I had OK’d the band being away from town that weekend. But before all that we had a show to play Easter Eve.

The stage at the Galaxy Hut was a rectangle painted on the floor, no larger than a tract housing walk-in closet. The club could fit around 50 people and it was packed. Not for us, but the other band had someone from Dismemberment Plan in it and people were psyched to see that. We were arranged like a police line-up in our painted corner: Dawn, Chuck, Lisa then me. I still brought the keyboard then so it was tight. Not a bad show, but when we tried to book a show there later on they had decided not to pay some sort of license fee and bands could not play original music there, only covers. Don’t ask me.

Anyway, we were staying at a friend’s place in Arlington, us still at the sleeping on floors stage of things. The next morning was Easter, and wracked with guilt I decided I needed a pilgrimage of some sort to accomplish what I don’t know. Arlington Cemetery seemed promising but the only thing going on there was a sunrise service and fuck that. So the next obvious spiritual icon would have to be the National Cathedral. Those Episcopalians sure build a nice church. I took the Metro to DuPont Circle, which was as close as it got to the church. I came up out of the hole into a perfect robin’s egg blue spring morning, and also into a fancy-pants farmer’s market. Children in strollers being pushed by impossibly white-toothed parents in earth tones and soft jeans laughing and leaning into each other as they picked out the perfect bunch of organic arugula and artisanal cheese to numb the nascent disquiet that would eventually lead him to unplug the nanny-cam and her to drink at noon. It was lovely and made me feel better. I got a fresh chocolate croissant and an organic indigenous butt-cheek squeezed apple cider, watched the automatons cheerily pretending that the tech bubble wasn’t about to burst, and then began looking for the bus stop that would take me toot sweet to the Cathedral. I can’t remember what it’s called but the bus stop was on the road known as embassy row. I waited and waited becoming increasingly certain that the busses must not run even the minimal holiday schedule on Easter. I gave myself an hour before I’d start walking, an interval my increasingly crazed mind had designated as being the longest anyone would make someone wait at a bus stop on a non-blizzard non-rush hour day. (I hate waiting. I don’t do it well. Hell is amusement parks. Welcome to Sartre Flags Parks! Suicide inducing levels of waiting for a reward of nausea! All the while surrounded by the stickiest and loudest Americans with no exit in sight forever….) After leaving and then walking back to the bus stop several times in consternation, I said “Fuck it” and left in the direction of the Cathedral. Approximately 150 yards down the road the bus blew past me. I stomped my feet and swore voluminously with what I’d like to imagine was the deep drunken creativity of Dylan Thomas at closing time, and the outsized fist shaking anger of Stone Cold Steve Austin battling the Corporation. And then I just started walking. Every driveway was a different country’s embassy and a better geographical lesson would be harder to find this side of Carmen Sandiego’s outstretched thigh. Besides, if you’re going on a pilgrimage for spiritual redemption then lots of walking really should be involved.

Fairly exhausted and sweaty, the Cathedral was beautiful and of a scale and type that does not seem to be so common in the states. Services were long over and that was fine. The air was cool and peaceful and I was really looking for a more meditative environment anyway. I found a pew off to the side and just sat until the hurt lessened to the point where I could accept the choice I’d made (and would make) to play music for a handful of people instead of being with my kids.

Ponderous Ponderables

It’s been several years of this life now and my kids seem to be doing fine. Or to put another way, I’m guessing once again I’ve overstated the importance of my omnipresent presence in their lives. I’m not sure the smothering always hovering style of modern parenting is entirely necessary or beneficial. We were talking in the van about the benign neglect of parenting when we were kids. The people in this band grew up in areas ranging from rural to mild suburbia so our experiences are not universal. It was a childhood where you were expected to be outside all day, just not late for dinner. My Dad would go away for a week or two pretty regularly and it wasn’t looked at askance. It was a bike ramps built out of scraps of wood for jumping over small muddy creeks named Snake River, Estes rocket engines dipped in gasoline, bottle rocket wars, hitting your friends dad’s liquor cabinet, riding lawn mower/tractor/go-kart driving kind of childhood. I swear I’m not trying to paint an overly bucolic picture of the way things were. I’m an adult. I have no idea what it’s like to be a child now. I hope they’re having fun, making lots of (non-fatal) poor choices, figuring out which kids are actually assholes and why, absorbing mountains of useless pop culture trivia in which to identify members of their tribe decades from now. I just figure that having the weight of parental expectations constantly upon your shoulders must be exhausting and ultimately limiting. The overwhelming love you have for your kids, and the awesome interesting people they are can make us forget the fact that our job is to turn them loose on the world.

Second through Fourth Time

Anyway, back to our history in D.C. We played the next two times at a place called the Red and the Black.** It being the equipment carried up a long flight of stairs to a small room with a stage set into the wall and encased in seedy red velvet curtains, looking for all the world like a burlesque puppet theater, kind of place. The money for the sound guy came out of the door sales so both times we made approximately $25. The band opened up for the Heartless Bastards the next time in town but had to drive through hurricane Sandy to get there.

**Best song on the new Iron Maiden record? Perhaps. The ending does go on a bit.

Rick Steve’s Presents

Back to the present: The day after Easter (See? Who says growth is unpossible?) we drove into D.C. even though our show was the next day. Why play a show after a nine-hour drive if you don’t have to? You know what this means don’t ya? Museums!! First up was a new one for me: The Air and Space Museum Annex out by Dulles Airport. The first thing I see is the Langley Aerodrome A. I am endlessly fascinated by the Wright Brothers. Seemingly socially awkward, obsessively focused, willing to scrap an idea if it’s not working or work tirelessly to hone a concept that was hazy. The idea that genius can come from diligence, stubbornness, insane amounts of hard work, as well as the inspiration that such work creates is very inspiring to me. And their native weirdness is just icing on the cake. Screw you North Carolina. Flight could only truly gestate in the isolated oddness of southern Ohio. Anyway, Langley was also trying to create powered manned flight. The difference was that he had the imprimatur of the government and the scientific community. The aerodrome was his great failure and seeing it in person it seems impossible now to ever have imagined it was going to lift humanity from the surface of the earth. The shiny and sobering Enola Gay sits center stage and it’s pretty wonderful to get up close to the shuttle Discovery. The elevated walkways around the hangar are a feature I’d love to see added to the Dayton Air Force Museum, but on the downside MacDonald’s is the only place to eat. Gross.

Next to navigate a circuitous path via the public transportation system from out there down to the Mall. Lunch in the Museum of the American Indians because it’s the only place to get a decent vegetarian meal in that area. Then on to the National Gallery. I don’t need to describe this as pretty everyone has been there, but what a lovely collection of El Grecos, Vermeers and to say nothing of the Da Vinci. The main domed area, with the fountain, what the hell is that called? Dammit. Insert architectural word here. Well it was filled with Easter Lillies and smelled divine. Few things are quite as soul filling as a good church-like art museum. Then I walked past the Capital Building with all the cherry trees so in bloom their fragrance was on the air. My feet hurt but I walked the two miles to the club, seeing parts of D.C. where the poor people most definitely weren’t. Corridors of power indeed.

Fifth Time

 It’s been a few years and our new booking agent really wanted us to try again, so it was decided we would dip our toes in at a very small club called the Treehouse. Once again with the lovely load-in up a flight of stairs, and then onto a weird stage with no monitors that was basically two squares next to each other, but offset to the point where maybe only a quarter of the two pieces are touching. So if you’re looking at the stage, the right side, where the audience can get right up next it to has Chuck and Lisa. To the left and back the rest of the band. In front of the non-Chuck/Lisa is the rail to keep us from hurtling down the stairs. Anyway, it’s weird. The owners were super nice and it became apparent pretty quickly that people were really excited to see us. The audience just poured amazing enthusiasm and love out to us and it was lovely. Lisa sang with the Paranoid Style, one of the openers, and they are truly a band to keep an eye out for. So good.

So maybe this D.C. thing is going to work out after all.

The Rest of the Leg

Our next show was an art space in a transitional neighborhood in Queens where the stage was lit only by a few naked red and blue bulbs that managed to both blind us to our instruments and yet provide no useful illumination at all. Both Chuck and Joe fell off the stage at one point. The Indian restaurant next door was so delicious that the glacially slow service was rendered irrelevant. Next up was the Milkboy in Philadelphia with our dear Phili fans. That afternoon we recorded a set in the WPRB radio studio on the Princeton campus. John Soloman was a sweetheart and it was fun to be in station with rows of vinyl singles and shelves of lp’s. Next up was a show at an old friend and long-time supporter of the bands house. House shows have such a different vibe, but I think it went well. The highlight was engaging in a full on Nerf gun battle upstairs with his kids while Lisa was singing Majestic 12, and then coming back down into the basement to finish the set. Take that Led Zeppelin for backstage hi-jinks. We finished up in Boston at the small and sold out Midway. Thalia Zedek opened up for us and she completely lived up to her reputation. A lot of familiar and friendly faces in the audience and there was a certain sweet and emotional feeling this night.

Next up we’re going to England, Scotland, and Wales. Now there’s a reason to keep the blog going. We are besides ourselves with anticipation.

Spring 2016 Tour

More April, May and June dates to be announced soon!

Cheese Doodle Ranking 2016 (ongoing)

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Cheese Doodle Ranking 2016

Terms:

Texture – can range from packing peanuts to cylindrical rods of sandpaper roughness. If you feel as if the roof of your mouth is going to bleed by the end of the bag they’re too rough.

Cheese Profile – is produced by the unique formulations of doodle dust used to coat the doodle. It’s a delicate balance between salt, cheddar and sawdust.

 

Tasted Doodles:

Carolina Country Snacks Baked Cheese Curls – poor

For all intents and purposes this snack is an orange packing peanut. Smaller than the average doodle, covered in sawdust, and entirely pointless. The bag has Jesus quotes on it, begging the question whether they are praying for our souls or forgiveness.

Herr’sgood

Taste profile is primarily that of salt with soupcon of cheese underneath.

Texture rough

Herr’s Honey Cheesenope

Chuck likes them, I think they’re weird. It’s a doodle coated in brown sugar. Doesn’t even leave your fingers orange.

Toms – serviceable I guess – I don’t really like them

Tastes like they’re going for a sharp cheddar profile but it ranges from non-existent to an almost sour wisp of cheese. Might be appealing after drinking a lot of beer from a plastic pitcher whilst bowling. Which upon reflection, unless you want to leave your balls* orange, would be inadvisable.

Texture is big and a little rough. Like Garth Brooks scolding his step-children in front of a Cinnabon at the mall.

Utz Baked Cheddar Cheese Curls – ultimately disappointing

Cheese flavor is quite good

Texture is a nightmare. It’s like over-cooked air. As if their baking process involves leaving trays of doodle dough inside Chernobyl until they take on the air of a thousand tiny sharpened knives. Plus I’m more nauseous than usual after eating.

Wiseserviceable

Cheese flavor negligible

Texture pretty good

 

 

 

 

 

 

*No, I don’t think I’m being subtle.

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Since Last We Parted Again

The behemoth that isn’t Wussy is attempting to get up and moving again. The word lumbering, so often associated with us, comes flitting to mind. Like the image of a waterfowl running across the water desperately attempting to gain flight, spastically flapping its wings only to alight a short distance away on the other side of the pond, exhausted, dismayed, and disheveled.

Our natural cycle seems to be a year at home making a new record and then the next year out promoting it. “Attica,” our last record had a lovely reception. People seemed to like it and some very nice things happened, like being on TV and more people coming out to the shows. It felt that maybe we were on the verge of something small but exciting (like free bunion surgery – thanks Obama!) And as responsible indie  rock purveyors maybe we should go back out and tour that next summer (2015) in order to keep the momentum going. We did exactly what we had done the year before to set things up, but the widening gyre collapsed on itself and the tour fell apart. When we finally pulled the plug everyone let out a collective sigh of relief and we realized that to a one, that while we were all trying to be good tin soldiers, what we really wanted was to be home and making a record. We love making records. Making a record means lots of time in the rehearsal space making things up. If nothing gets made up on a given night it doesn’t matter because you got to spend a night playing around, or talking about bands and records. As long as you don’t consider one kind of night better than the other then things tend to go pretty well. Eventually you go into the studio and get to make stuff up all over the place. And if you fall out of love with a song you just say, “well at least we’ll have a good B-side.” Maybe sometimes during the mix sessions things might get a little snippy as the decisions get all nit-picky, but if the blood isn’t a little bit high, if there are no stakes at all, then why even bother being there?

We finished “Forever Sounds” in June of 2015, or thereabouts. With our main touring time being the summer, we were presented with a nice long chunk of time before we would head out again. Our label Shake It got excited about the notion of having a longer roll out, just like all the cool kids labels do, and went so far as to have promo copies of the record printed up to send out to all the media outlets. When I was a kid finding a promo copy of a Springsteen single (Prove It All Night) was a score, and Chuck was even more excited, seeing as he made his living as a record dealer for awhile back there. It just felt professional. Up until this point we usually cut it very fine indeed and prayed we’d have the CD in our hands before the release show, and then pray we’d get some press before we toured, and then pray the tests came back negative.

With a new booking agent (see two paragraphs ago) and a new press person we were informed that once again the world had changed and that we were doing it all wrong. Or more specifically the way you promoted a record had changed. In the past the primary goal was to get mentioned in print media, especially a national one like Rolling Stone. Now however the goal is to provide exclusive content to the big web sites. (whoever the hell they might be) This could be as simple as giving a site the first 24 hours to stream a single, or a video. Then they get clicks, which generate money to them, and the band gets some front-page action on a well-traveled site. I don’t know, seemed to work OK. We can’t afford to keep someone on retainer promoting the band all the time so we pay someone for a few months and then it’s time to go play shows.

We are attempting what for us is our most ambitious slate of touring ever. Some short treks in the spring to celebrate the release of the CD, (see next entry) our first full band trip to England and environs, a swing out west in June, and then finishing with another trip east to finish up in July. Without actually doing the math it should be over 50 shows and over two months on the road. It is a little daunting, seeing as nothing has really changed in our lives to make touring easier other than more consistently getting two hotel rooms a night. There is a sense however, that for various reasons that will be enumerated throughout the summer, that our ability to go out like this is becoming more finite.