Brilliantine Mortality

Third Battalion

Third Battalion home / The Origins and Early History of the 3rd Battalion / Embrace the Past / A Rock in our Hearts / First Rites / BSP on tour Jan-Jun 2003 / Cath Aubergine's 2003 BSP Travelogue / ULU / BSP on tour Jan-Jun 2004 / Cargo / Springtime at Sea / True Adventures in the Land Beyond / To Cork and Dublin / The Children of the Summer's End / The Fall of British Sea Power

Footnotes The Search for HMS Sussex / Irish Jack

Fan reviews of BSP gigs can be found on the main site

True Adventures in the Land Beyond

A Travelogue, of sorts, featuring British Sea Power, Bohemian Rhapsody, beer and Buzz Aldrin's pants

How will I ever find my way there?

It was, it has to be said, an itinierary of ridiculous proportions even by my standards. It always had been, and then a month before we were due to depart I was making great time down the M6 towards that evening's British Sea Power concert in Birmingham when my phone rang. Nick knew I was driving, so this had to be urgent. Five minutes later in the car park of Keele Services the plans were in disarray - our planned route from Toronto down into the US (using the conventional method of an aeroplane) was illegal, as Air Canada do not participate in the US Visa Waiver sheme - and there wasn't time to get a visa. Crossing by land would apparently be OK, but have you seen how far it is from Toronto (our point of entry to the continent) to Atlanta, where we were due the following evening? Were we going to have to cancel the much anticipated Canadian bit of the trip altogether and re-book flights to the USA, which we couldn't afford to do anyway? Cancel the whole trip? Later that night during an unexpected stop-over at Captain Riot's following a Noble-induced minor head injury, it came to me. The overnight Greyhound bus to New York, a cheap internal flight to Atlanta, and it's back on! So here I am in Atlanta. The sun is blazing, it's Tuesday I think and we've already travelled God knows how many miles. We set off early Sunday from Manchester, landed in Toronto around midday, had a Hot Willy Dog (a vegetarian sausage in a roll that is, not animal porn - it's only the first day after all!) and took an unashamedly touristy cruise round the harbour; some tea in an amusingly Scottish-themed pub (those friends of mine compiling a global database of places you can get draught Strongbow may add The Duke Of Argyle next to Toronto coach station) and drifted back, thoroughly disoriented, to join a queue of international cheapskates, students and drifters; got on a bus and fell asleep.

At 11.30pm we crossed our fingers as we walked into a shed-like immigration office where Mr. Not Bothered Night Shift ("is there, er, anything in your luggage I should, like, know about?") half-heartedly scanned our forefinger prints and didn't even question why we were taking such a circuitous route. The land of the free!! We were briefly astounded at some of our fellow passengers' desire - and ability - to munch Wendyburgers at 4am, and awoke again in Manhattan, where like the seasoned travellers we seem to have accidentally become, headed straight for our fave café o 47th & 7th for a typically enormous stack of pancakes. A trip to the internet café revealed the sad news that Captain Riot was no longer coming over at the weekend, and a minor thread scrap the gist of which seemed to be that some people think it's a bit sad to chat with your mates on internet forums. So I flicked over to the Chameleons forum and told a bloke called Chris in Atlanta we'd never met in real life that we'd see him later Chris was as kind and helpful as everyone else we've ever met through the global Chameleons network and my faith in the medium was intsantly restored. We spent a few pleasant beers in the warm evening sunshine talking music, even attempting to coerce Barb the waitress into coming to tonight's gig. So here I am in the alternative quarter of Atlanta, Little Five Points, getting the first suntan of the year, watching the world go by and just ten or so hours from seeing my favourite band again.


After a long hot afternoon and a psychotic-strength margarita in Chris's fave Mexican place we head to the Earl, three blocks from his house. The front bar is full of classic Americana and outside there are impressive motorbikes parked in the dust of the half dug up street. Hamilton's lost Eamon and gazing around the bar when he sees us - as usual, he's forgotten we were coming - and bounces over all smiles. Barb the waitress turns up with her boyfriend, at which point the evening takes it's first surreal turn when, on discovering we're from Manchester, boyfriend asks us if we've heard of a club night called FUSE. A connoisseur of breakbeats, he's a huge fan of the Fusetrax label and dreams of coming to Manchester to visit Gooseman's renowned sessions. I can't wait to tell Gooseman, a friend of ours of some 15 years whose band used to practice in my basement back in the early 90s, about his far-flung fan!

We wander through to the back room for the first support, the curiously named A Fir-Ju Well - a local band renowned for publicising their gigs via wooden pallets left around town. The energetic young foursome swap instruments - and genres - with every song, sounding like White Album Beatles, radiohead, Pink Floyd and bar-room blues. Clearly popular round ere they make for a great warm-up. Tour support Feist's one woman and a guitar and some tape loops acoustic art-rock is not where our heads are at tonight but we promise Noble we'll watch her another time.

The club's about three quarters full with maybe 150 people, when BSP come on and attack Oily Stage at breakneck speed. The stage and Hamilton's head are adorned with leaves, Yan is staring at a front row just inches from his face and it's good fun to see them like this again. They play fast and sound raw as anything, and a few lines of words go stray. "We're running a competition tonight - spot the mistakes!" grins Yan, Noble mumbles something in which I hear my name mentioned, then straight into the first live hearing - for me, anyway - of Be Gone. They're on brilliant form and whilst there's not much movement in the crowd the applause is rapturous. There's one lad going wild though, singing his heart out to every song old and new, so we jump along with him. Yan plays with a pheasant during Spirit Of St Louis and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The crowd's rather too thin for surfing but this doesn't stop a self-blindfolded Noble having a go anyway - he's carefully passed over heads until his feet touch a round pillar next to where I'm standing and wraps his legs around it - gradually Stan and I take our hands off his arms and back and leave him gleefully pole-dancing, upside-dwn and unsupported, before Stan gets that look of concern and lifts him to safety again.

Atlanta set list: Oily Stage / Remember Me / Please Stand Up / North Hanging Rock / Be Gone / Apologies / Spirit Of St Louis / Fear Of Drowning / Childhood Memories / Beetroot Fields / Leaving Here* / Blackout / Larsen B / Carrion / Lately / Rock In A.

*Throughout the tour, How Will I Ever Find My Way Home appears on set list under its former title.

Back in the bar afterwards Noble's showing me and Barb the magic bean he was given by an old Voodoo practitioner in New Orleans, when I spot Nick chatting to the lad we'd been dancing with. Then he comes over looking shellshocked. Turns out Adam is actually a millionaire businessman with a successful urban clothing line. He's just bought a black Ferrari off E-bay - from Tom Selleck's agent no less - and is sponsoring the Childrens' Olympics and various skateboarding events and now, it seems, our road trip impressed with these crazy English people and their insane choice of holiday he's stuffed a note in Nick's hand as he left, "purely for beers". He was off out the door before Nick realised it was a $100 bill. Thus a large, final and thoroughly unnecessary round of drinks is bought, and it's a rather disappointed Noble who's hauled back to the imminently departing tour bus. My last beer ends up on the pavement, and Barb's boyfriend's not looking much better.

Thus it's the hangovers from hell that greet another blistering Deep South morning. Every single person we've met down here has been lovely. As we sit enjoying a breakfast of soya bratwurst (!) outside a friendly café down in Little Five Points a truck pulls up and the drivers' friends on the patio throw him beer through the window. Here in the lands where the Civil War raged its bloodiest, in 2005 there is every skin tone imaginable siting round in the sun, much of it adorned with tattoos, and our first taste of the South leaves us smiling. But there's a plane to DC waiting and more adventures to be had.

From the moment that you realise most of this ain't real

Advertising Intermission - Live News Radio, Taxi to Atlanta Airport >>> It's the beauty contest so HOT it should be ILLEGAL! These women are so DANGEROUS, some of them are KILLERS! Live News brings you: BEAUTY BEHIND BARS! A beauty pageant LIVE from COLOMBIA'S TOP SECURITY WOMENS' PRISON!

We're still wondering if we've accidentally tuned to one of the stations off the latest Grand Theft Auto game, when

>>>> This is Live News. Reports are coming in from Washington DC that security forces have intercepted a Cessna light aircraft apparently heading for the White House. The aircraft was surrounded by Black Hawk helicopters and diverted to an airfield in Virginia where two people were arrested.

An interesting day to be heading into the capital then! Remarkably our flight is running to schedule, although some earlier ones have been cancelled and the security queue is enormous. At the gate, I treat myself to my favourite US tabloid the Weekly World News - "the world's only reliable newspaper" (reliably entirely made up, that is) which tells me that Elvis is running for President, potatoes have developed intelligence, green skinned cable guys are unstalling alien premium channels for unsuspecting custonmers (including such ratings winners as "Martian Apprentice", where losing contestants are fired into the Sun) and blind dogs can now apply for seeing-eye squirrels. God bless America!

Buzz Aldrin's pants

It wasn't the same, landing at Dulles Airport without Kurt's truck out front welcoming us in. Nobody's heard from him in months, apart from disturbing reports he'd chopped his own thumb off in a carpentry accident - maybe he's off on a military tour of duty or training exerices or just gone to ground as he does sometimes. Public transport's dirt cheap in DC though so soon we're checking into the Windsor Inn, a peculiarly florid hotel I found back in 2003 by sticking the Black Cat venue address into Yahoo Maps and pressing the Find Nearest Hotel button. Still managed by a seedy looking Frenchman whose eyes face outwards, but there's no sign of the complimentary sherry still promised on the website and abused gleefully by the UK contingent plus Kurt a couple of years back. Perhaps they remembered my name. With a run of 6 consecutive gigs from tomorrow and not much of interest at the Black Cat tonight (BSP are in Carrboro, which my extensive research told me was unnecessarily difficult to get to and - more importantly - in North Carolina, a state Nick has no desire to return to after some months working in its soullless technology parks) we wander up to the nearby African neighbourhood to what still sounds like a sick joke to us children of the 80s, an Ethiopian restaurant. The only joke here though is the £11 (aided of course by a favourable exchange rate) for a platter of eight different deliciously spiced dishes with bread, beer and a tip. Then the last early night, we presume, for some time.

Breakfast. The morning receptionist is staring at me. "Are you called Cath? You have a message. Kurt called." Flippin'heck, Baltimore's one man Homeland Security Force's strategic powers have tracked us down! We spend the morning in the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum, marveling at an Apollo lander, the back end of a Saturn 5, some real and horrifyingly enormous Cruise missiles, the Spirit Of St Louis (of course), and - because the very idea of space travel brings out the six-year-old in any of us - a toilet from the Mir space station and Buzz Aldrin's pants. OK, longjohns if you will, but it's not every day you see underwear that's been to the Moon, is it?

Down on the Mall, in front of the White Houes, there's a screech of tyres and a shout. I never thought the sight of a battered blue Dodge truck could have me almost in tears but soon we're in the arms of an old friend. With two thumbs. One of them, admittedly, heavily bandaged and apparently held on with two elastic bands and a paperclip. We retire to another old haunt from previous away trips Polly's Bar for beer, catching up, chilli cheese fries and that fantastic jukebox we still can't work. Then we're back in the Black Cat, it looks exactly as we remember it and it's looking to be another great night. Just Feist's set to go - probably very good if you're into that sort of thing, but distinctly unappealing to a man fresh from military training camp with three Red Bulls down him and three months' deprovation of indie rock'n'roll to quench. Or his similarly fired-up transatlantic friends.

There are buzzing noises from somewhere. Yan, wearing what appears to be half a cardigan, prods at his pedals. Shrugs. It's not going to go away, so let's have it. This is BSP 2005 again - no foliage, one banner. The venue's not full but it's busier than last time (last time I was here anyway) and people are crowded at the front more, although Feist had her own fan contingent here some of whom don't even bother staying. Fortuitously we've located ourselves near the few people who are dancing, althoughKurt's painkillers wear off during a frenzied Spirit of St Louis (I was grinning from ear to ear when they played that tonight!). The band are doing their best but the sound is getting worse - later Joe tells us it's one of the worst boards he's ever worked with and "possibly haunted". Yan's clearly had a few and not all his words come out in the right place and Hamilton's sunny smile is largely absent. Up the front the crowd are loving it, but it's a short sharp Rock In A that ends it, with first Hamilton then Noble then Yan having a go on the drumkit after Woody and Eamon have wandered off. Yan grabs for a ceiling pipe and unlike a similar incident in Norwich last month manages to hang on for some quality pull-ups, then flies into the crowd with Noble right behind him.

Washington DC set list: Oily Stage / Be Gone / Remember Me / Scottish Wildlife Experience / Apologies / Spirit Of St Louis / Please Stand Up / North Hanging Rock / Leaving Here / Blackout / Fear of Drowning / Carrion / Lately /

No surprises then but solid enough, even if the band take a little convincing (and a few more trips to the bar - thanks Atlanta Adam!). By 2am everyone's plastered, Yan and Noble have added some written opinions to the "Absolutely No Stage Diving or Crowd Surfing" sign Kurt's pinched, Kurt and Hamilton have compared tool-related mishap experiences, Stan and Woody have failed to make the high score chart on the Elvis pinball machine, and I've shown them my photo of the Spirit Of St Louis. Hamilton's dismayed he had no idea it was just down the road. Yeah, I say, next time you're here you'll have to check it out. It's in the Aerospace museum. Just near Buzz Aldrin's pants.

Phildalphia cheese

We step off the Amtrak at Philadelphia 30th Street, into the majestic hall, stop for a pretzel, and I have a photograph taken. Just as I did on 3rd October 2002. I've got longer hair now and less body fat, different camouflage trousers although the urban blues I had on last time are still just about in one piece in my bag. The same beloved old tracksuit top tied around me. There I stood, disoriented, three days into my first trip to the US, my first foreign gigging away trip, blown away by it all and a little concerned as to whether we'd been right to leave the safety of our mates to have another night out with the crazy soldier from Baltimore with the battered Dodge truck we'd met the previous night. Three weeks later I saw British Sea Power for the first time; four weeks after that the Chameleons for the 35th and last. Last night I saw BSP for the 70th. There's a strange symmetry at work. In between there have been how many away trips? 11? 12? What happened? We walk out to the cab rank and the afternoon sun is shining as it did two years, seven months and ten days ago. But South Street's way across town in the wrong direction, and the taxi takes us to a Travelodge situated between Wood St, Noble St and Hamilton St. I didn't know this when I booked it. And is tonight's gig really in a church?

We have walked what seems like miles without sight or sound of a bar, restaurant or civilisation of any description when the phone rings. It's Eugene (aka EFM), a UK BSP fan who's rather foruitously in Philadelphia on business this week. And he's worried. "I've been phoning the place all day and there's just a recorded message with a list of Reverends, and I'm outside now - and it is a church - and it's deserted" No, someone would have told us if the gig was off, wouldn't they? We take sanctuary in that staple of away-trip stability the Irish Pub and I text Joe the soundman. Yeah it's on. Relax. We've not heard from Pat (aka Mane), another UK fan currently travelling out here, but then suddenly he's walking alongside us, demonstarting a Frzaer-like ability to rendezvous without the use of phones. The church hall has no bar but a sign says "BYOB - shhh!" so we divert via a 7-11 and emerge with armfuls of well-stocked brown paper bags. "That's so ghetto!" said Dee, the next day, looking at the photo of our makeshift bar. We go in to find a decently-sized and enthusiastic young crowd. Feist's stripped-down set works beautifully here amongst the modest wooden beams.

The lads are back on form tonight as well. A strong and packed set with a rare outing for Don't You Want To Be a Bird which has everyone smiling even though few will have heard it before, nobody wants the set to end and there are energetic gymnastics from Yan and Noble, although the latter steers clear of climbing anything which might break or fall over. Shame there's no pulpit down here really. Yan then amuses himself by kicking Noble up the arse repeatedly and diving out the way when Noble makes a grab for him.

Philadelphia set list: Oily Stage / Remember Me / Larsen B / Childhood Memories / Apologies / Spirit Of St Louis / Leaving Here / Blackout / Don't You Want To Be A Bird / Please Stand Up / North Hanging Rock / Be Gone / Carrion / Lately / Rock in A

Midnight, a large upstairs room full of portraits. In the corner, a beautiful Steinway grand piano. Noble is hammering out The Final Countdown. Nick is singing. Pat takes over the keys for a note-perfect rendition of Wonderful Tonight with all the flourishes. We're stunned, but later he confesses it's his party trick. Noble joins him again and four hands belt out more highly dubious cheese-rock classics. Lady in Red I think may have made an appearance. Joe and Nick are adding vocals. When the gig promoter comes up to tidy up, he is greeted by the sound of the four of them performing a creditable Bohemian Rhapsody with myself and other band and crew members somewhere between speechlessness and uncontrollable laughter. He shakes his head and leaves. Nick, Pat and I follow soon. Martin Noble is the talented and awe-inspiring guitar hero in the greatest band in the world and I don't want to know any more of his dark musical secrets - anyway, we need to save our energy for New York.

48 hours in New York

New England is big. We left New York over two hours ago and the train is snaking through miles of trees, across beautiful rivers and past little lakeside villages, fields of crops and more trees. It looks like the pictures on a calendar, a thousand shades of green and more. Just over two hours from New York and a world away again. We spent two days in New York and barely stopped moving - you don't. Six days had passed since we last stepped out of the Greyhound terminal into the Manhattan chaos - at least this time we knew where we were and what day it was. The hotel found by Captain Riot before he decided not to make the trip is much nicer than the Times Square megacrates we've used on previous trips - must get him a beer for that one when we get back. Soon we're eating pizza with Dee and John in a downtown Italian bar who amazingly greeted our arrival by blasting out my favourite Fall song ("Cruisers Creek") and it feels good to be back. Although the rate at which our dollars are evaporating here even compared to DC is shocking.

John is unreserved in expressing his distaste for Feist. Me - well the songs are starting to grow on me a little, she looks fantastic, seems (from her between-song rambles) to be a very sound person and fairly astute - but so far as warming up or energising a crowd is concerned it's little surprise they've mostly been quite quiet over here. If you don't like what she does it's going to bore you senseless as it would feel very rude to chat through it; and if you do like it it'll leave you entranced, chilled, pensive and peaceful. I have already experienced both. Either way not the best BSP warm-up.

Lucikly the great cheese-rock behemoth of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now is back in the intro tape and Dee, Nick and I have a glorious air-guitar session - to the bemusement of the rather hipstery crowd. Earlier we spotted Interpol's Carlos D holding court in the bar; every other boy's a Stroke-in-waiting and the girls are petite with immaculately distressed hair. Most look more like an indie-rock themed fashion spread than the real thing. And the place is crawling with industry liggers- as conspicuous here as back home even when they're not sniffing obviously.

The band know this and throw everything into it. Yan is commanding and compelling and passionate, Noble pouts heavily and doesn't miss a note, Eamon's flailing like some kind of deranged wind-up toy. Apologies To Insect Life is explosive, and the crowd up front are warming up into something our little UK/New Jersey contingent recognise. The set itself is straightfoward but played to the gallery - literally, at times - and every song sounding as good as it ever has. Yan shushes the crowd at one point and holds a little tweeting toy bird up to the microphone, his eyes wide and a hazy smile that's all "Look how cute I am". And Rock in A gives the crowd something to talk about for some time. Noble and Eamon wrestling and dragging each other around the stage by the feet, plenty of play-violence and a particularly impressive array of squats and star-jumps from Hamilton. Band, crew and fans old and new agree it's a triumph. We politely decline an invite to the official after-show (rightly, it seems; someone who did go told us the next day it was "full of New York scene wankers") and pile, with Pat, who's reappeared from somewhere, into John's car for the now traditional nutter-dodging early-hours spin round Manhattan. The destination is legendary goth club The Batcave where it's wonderful to catch up with another old friend from Chameleons days, but the drinks are prohibitively priced (never mind the fact that I have to go to the bar for the perfectly-legal-to-drink-in-most-civilised-countries Pat) and the music soon descends into a repetitive dirge. Luckily the hotel's just a few blocks away.

New York Saturday set list: Oily Stage / Remember Me / Apologies / Spirit Of St. Louis / How Will I Ever Find My Way Home / Blackout / Please Stand Up / North Hanging Rock / Larsen B / Beetroot Fields / Be Gone / Fear of Drowning / Tugboat / Carrion / Lately / Rock in A

Interlude: open (end of) season

Sunday brunch in a Manhattan bagelry is as hectic as you'd expect. Onion-bagel-grilled-cheese-cinnamon-grape-jelly... actually, it's even more hectic than that, sue to events taking place five thousand miles away in Portsmouth. Nick and I are not obsessive football fans - not much time for that in between the gigs - but we're interested, and today's the last day of the Premiership season. City are comfortably mid-table, the annual promotion-relegation circus of the late 90s behind us. West Bromwich Albion however, Nick's team, stand on the precipice along with Norwich, Crystal Palace and Southampton. One will stay in the Premiership, where the tunnels are paved with TV gold; three will drop. To add a little spice, Portsmouth, safe in the mid-table themsleves, would love nothing more than to see bitter rivals Southampton drop especially after Harry Redknapp's defection. They are thus unlikely to stick their best defence up against West Brom. But there are those three other matches... my phone bleeps. It's Alex, back home, whose team Manchester United are entertaining Southampton. Are you keeping up? Good. Then it bleeps again - and again.

10.12 Bad one 4 wba - soton 1 manu 0

10.16 fulham 1 norwich 0 Is there any polite way to eat a peanut butter and grape jelly bagel?

10.22 Soton 1 Utd 1, WBA must win to escape No, there isn't, is there? Oh well...

10.37 Charlton 1 Palace 0, Fulham 2 Norwich 0 Well at last the other sides are having the decency to get beaten...

11.24 Soton 1 Utd 2, WBA 1 Portsouth 0, Fulham 3 Norwich 0, Charlton 1 Palace 1, WBA escape at moment.

11.33 :-( Charlton 1 Palace 2, WBA down at moment

11.35 Fulham 4 Norwich 0 (Irrelevant now. I like Norwich as a place, but good-byeee!)

11.39 WBA 2 Portsmouth 0. 10mins left. Need Charlton to draw. Nick's looking a bit down at this point.

11.44 Charlton 2 palace 2. WBA escape! 6 mins left.

11.55 Escape! Fulham 6 Norwich 0, WBA 2 Portsmouth 0, Palace Charlton 2-2 Soton 1 Utd 2. Escape by 1 point.

Right, where were we? Oh yes, Manhattan. We resolve to buy Alex a few pints when we get back, and now have a day to fill. Let's go to the beach! Unfortunately the helpful chap in the subway station directs us to completely the wrong lione for Coney island and we spend another tense half hour in a not that friendly looking part of Brooklyn in the rain - shades of 2003 again, but no cars of heavily tattooed hardmen are circling this time and eventually we get to Coney Island, have a ride on the creaky Wonder Wheel and contemplate the tasteful paintball sideshow Shoot The Freak "Live human target! He don't shoot back! Cheaper than real therapy!") then head back through Manahattan and straight out the other side. I was disappointed when the rumoured date at the wonderful Maxwells didn't happen, but it doesn't mean we can't meet Dee there for nachos, Red Deaths and margaritas, and I load up the jukebox with Marquee Moon for old times' sake. Then it's back across to the Bowery where the miserable bastard on the door who seemed last night to take great exception to me having ordered tickets for venue pick-up, thus forcing him to do some work, is suddenly all smiles and "Enjoy the show!" when we're on the guest list. How the other half live, eh? No sign of Pat so we spend first band Double's set trying to work out if we like them or not (I think I do, but they're a bit strange) and watch Feist again (I'm now going off her. Nothing personal).

After last night's triumphs, British Sea Power's technical gremlins are back. Or specifically Noble's. His guitar variously loses power and strings throughout. Woody's not faring much better; the mic on the bass drum having developed a mind of its own. But they deliver again, and a treat is in store, a beautiful version of Tugboat that has the whole place mesmerised.

New York Sunday set list: It Ended on an Oily Stage / Remember Me /Apologies to Insect Life / Spirit of St Louis / Childhood Memories / How Will I Ever Find My Way Home / Blackout / Please Stand Up / North Hanging Rock / Be Gone / Larsen B / Fear of Drowning / Carrion / Lately / Rock in A

"Fact" of the day: Straw poll survey conducted largely via girly moments with other female fans and random eavesdropping, would strongly imply that more North American lady fans have the hots for Mr Martin Noble than the other four added together...

Afterwards there'e another party to be had but the Maxwells afternoon has taken its toll and we had to get up and catch this train, which is pulling slowly into a very grey Boston...

Boston Tea Power

My eyes hurt. My legs hurt. My shoulders hurt. My brain hurts. You don't want to know about my internal organs. I feel poisoned. Boston is cold, grey, damp and cloudy. And, it would appear from the route the metro-bus took us across the very murky river to Cambridge, largely made of roadworks. Finding any sort of hotel room at all in Cambridge or this end of Boston proved virtually impossible, so we're in a rather sumptuous (for us) Holiday Inn. The reason for the room shortage, it later transpires, is that it's graduation week here in the most student-populated city in the United States. A bit like LA on Oscars weekend or a Munich international match night on the eve of the Oktoberfest, we just keep doing this. Or rather BSP do. Anyway our three-figure-costing room overlooks a workwear store, a cut-price liquor warehouse, several auto repair centres and more roadworks - after a train ride through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen this is a bit of a shock. It's also a slow news day. The hilariously parochial TVNews7's top stories are: Known Local Petty Crook Cheats Boy Out Of Nine Dollars; Tunnel Suffers Minor Flooding After Sprinkler Failure; and the big one... The Weather's Been A But Dull This Week ("...trees that normally blossom at the end of May could flower as late as the first week in June!") Punctuated, as ever, with cheaply shot commercials for lawyers proudly proclaiming their ambulance-chasing skills. I can almost feel the points dropping off my IQ with every minute I gaze at it. Best drag our tired selves out again before we become plankton...

The weather's cleared up a bit as we stroll up the river past the legendary Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Some of the greatest minds in physics passed through here; theories were formulated behind that door that changed the very world we live in. A few blocks away, only a couple of them dug up, the Middle East restaurant lives up to its name and my body feels better already after a lovely meal of tofu, vegetables, chickpeas, couscous and nuclear-hot harissa sauce. Real food at last, for the first time since DC nearly a week ago... The club itself is another lovely venue, lit by strings of fairy lights, a wide, low stage and two bars despire its relatively small size. Local opening band The Bon Savants churn out regulation US college-town alt.rock with flavours of Nirvana, U2 and punk-pop, which is transiently enjoyable but utterly unmemorable - typing this up a week later I couldn't tell you what they looked like. They were rather louder than they had to be, too. Feist was - well, you know, much the same as ever really.

British Sea Power are probably all too aware that their last visit to Boston ended rather messily with a probably spiked Yan suffering a violent and frightening onstage breakdown - the local free paper hasn't forgotten, anyway. He's pretty straight tonight though and looking relatively happy. Noble, all in black, looks exhausted and/or hung over. But it's a great, friendly, enjoyable performance and nice to be back in an attitude-free little venue. Noble does his water-in-the-ear-out-the-mouth trick, Yan does a messy headstand and they hug, grinning. The curse of Boston's gone. Afterwards it's a few drinks with some Stateside forumsters Vanessa and Julie (Wide-eyed), then a relaxed and happy band leave for the border. Early the next morning so do we - it's been a lovely week or so all across the East Coast. Goodbye America, and hello again Toronto - it feels like a lot longer than nine days since we left you...

Boston set list? Can't remember, sorry.

Back over the border

"We're staying with a friend. No, I don't know her address, she's just going to meet us somewhere, and..." This isn't working, is it? Needless to say we get big pink lines through our immigration cards and have to go to the next level of paper-shuffling. Den has texted me her address by this point, but strangely the second lot don't even ask... we're in though, and straight off to fulfil the promise we made ourselves way back on that sunny afternoon on the lake - we're going up that tower. The lift takes 70 seconds to do 346 metres. Our lift back home struggles to get us to the fifth floor in that time. Glad I'm not too hungover today. Eventually we reach the artistic little café on the corner of Den's road, and I've half an idea that the bloke with the beard sat outside is her boyfriend, but I've only met him once during a bank holiday weekend of near-oblivion and anyway this is Canada and loads of men have beards. Nick's looking relatively native himself after never having got round to getting any shaving foam. An hour later when he reappears we have a good laugh about it, he put his vague recognition of me down to me maybe being someone local. By the time Den gets home we're nicely chilled and ready to go out again, although Den's less than happy that the deer-print skirt she spotted earlier in a second-hand shop had been bought (inexplicably, given the limited appeal of such an item) by the time she went back for it...We're joined by another local forumster Sandra (Chronic) and once again Pat appears out of nowhere. He really is rather good at this...

Inside the venue we're greeted by Noble who has a young man in a very recently signed Ian McCulloch t-shirt almost hanging off him. Sandra suddenly has a flashback and remembers him from last year... his name's Kavon, although he's more commonly known as Superfan. Of anything, it would appear - Sandra later unearths pictures on the internet of him lifting a major sporting trophy, and he is widely documented on local reviews and blogs - it appears his legendary status is not just, as we initially suspected, in his head. Suppose I've just added to it as well. Oh well. Tonight however he is very much a Superfan of British Sea Power, and has already invited himself out to eat with the band. And now Noble is trying to dump him on us. However, luckily for us his Superfandom doesn't actually extend as far as wanting to go down the front and jump around and that, so a move down into the pit-like area next to the unusually high stage and we're away. We next see him centre stage, a brand new blue BSP T-shirt now pulled over his McCulloch one, and he's announcing the band! People like this make me feel better. I go and watch the band a lot, yeah, but I wouldn't follow them to dinner or, as he does later, walk brazenly onto the tour bus. I suppose nobody would bat an eye if it were a pretty girl, though...

Anyway with him despatched to the side (where I manage a sneaky photo, which I'll be issuing to any bands I know who may be going to Toronto!) it's onward and upward. Yan is having particular trouble remembering words tonight but doesn't seem to put out by this, actually singing the line "I forgot the words" in Larsen B with a sweet clumsy smile. They've been on this tour nearly a month now, almost off the back of the UK one, they must be exhausted, but they put on a great one tonight. There's foliage again, and I'd like to think this was for Den, whose birthday starts at midnight. Noble is starting to increasingly resemble a zombie in his end-of-gig wanders - coat over his head like you used to playing "Monsters" as a kid, which once again tempts Yan to repeatedly kick him up the arse and run off giggling when the zombie-monster turns towards him. It is frankly a ridiculous thing to be watching two intelligent men in their late twenties doing, but (like Buzz Aldrin's pants) inherently funny to everyone's inner six-year-old. Another reason why I love them so much, they haven't forgotten how to play around. Then Noble scares us again by clambering all the way up the shaky PA and standing there like he's about to jump off. I'm not scared of him any more, except when he's on stage.

Toronto set list? Er. Nope, sorry

And then it was all over. The BSP wagon continues rolling - their next stop would be Cleveland, Ohio, a bloody long way. Then Chicago, then home at last, but no rest for the lads, next week they're booked to play at Chelsea Flower Show and then the following night in Newcastle - just a week til I see them again, but that'll be back on home turf, a different atmosphere altogether. Crammed with about 30 people into the tiny backstage room, Superfan demanding Yan and Hamilton record a station trailer for his mate's radio show into his phone, I'm standing back against the wall when I feel that end-of-tour feeling welling up inside me. At the end of that first Chameleons trip in 2002, the outpouring of emotion onto that Hoboken street corner was so deep I swear I can still feel something there, frozen in time. Kurt nearly lost the plot, we all did, even the band were never quite the same again. And for me there's a street corner in Hamburg that bleeds just as much... So I try and make a quick exit into the night these days, no more long goodbyes. But Den's not had chance to catch up with the band for ages, so we're there... I'm trying not to cry and burying my face in a shoulder still warm from the stage and knowing that whilst we still have two days of holiday to go, this is the beginning of the slide back down to earth. The venue staff turn the lights out and we spill onto the street. It's passed midnight now so it's Den's birthday, May 18th, and quarter of a century ago on this night, five thousand miles away just near where I grew up, musical history was being rewritten. Here in Toronto everyone is tired. Stan lifts the flight cases into the bus and one by one the band step inside, Superfan squeezing in somewhere along the way. A passer by asks us if we like hip-hop and tries to give us CDs. Pat humours him for a while. Various drifters approach our bedraggled bunch, including one who tells Nick and Hamilton that should they ever need "someone seeing to", "come and find Jim". Excellent, a homeless assassin... then a tall man walks up to the payphone, gets out a small music player of some sort and stands there playing bizarrely jaunty folk music down the receiver for five minutes. The night people of Toronto. Charlie the bus driver mentions in a crazy Southern drawl that he's seen me in a few places, and I just nod, I'm in no fit state to start explaining why I do what I do. It's getting cold, and the bus is ready to go. Woody's the last up the stairs, although we never see Superfan getting off... It's good to be able to spend the comedown with people who understand rather than in the isolation of a hotel room, but it's been a long day, and back at Den's we all fall asleep in minutes.

Epilogue: the land beyond

The sun was bright and low in the late afternoon sky as we walked up River Road towards Niagara Falls. The woman in the B&B had told us we had the very best weather. Best day of the year so far, she said. We turned the corner at Table Rock and suddenly, everywhere, rising from the mist and shooting in and out of the rocks, rainbows. Doubles, full circles, bright bands right in front of us. The sun splintered off the water as it spilled over the rocks into the river, pure white and deepest blue. What a day to be here. We could have gone to Niagara Falls any time, booked a package trip or a weekender; I've always wanted to see this place. We could have been here last week in the rain or next week when the holiday season starts over here and the place will be crawling with coach parties. But we're here today watching the best special effects nature can make, on some random Wednesday, for no other reason than that a band I love played nearby last night. One of those moments when it all comes together. This is why I do it. It's never just about the band. In the bar before a gig my heart is leaping; when they are onstage nothing else in the world exists; afterwards I might sometimes have a drink or two with some remarkably talented musicians who also happen to be lovely people, but the rest of the time? Rainbows and waterfalls and lazy afternoons drinking with old friends; hurtling around the streets of Manhattan at three on the morning in overloaded vehicles; flowers and wild-eyed Frenchmen and Apollo landers; watching the world go by from a patio bar in the blazing sunshine. This morning at work some middle-aged, middle-of-the-road, middle-management colleague, born just two years before me but a generation older and who still has a dad-like residual interest in music (well, buying CDs anyway, I don't think he goes to gigs any more) asks if I had a nice break. Asks me if I'm going to Newcastle tonight as if to show me how "clued up" he is. I cringe a little. He knows what I do, but I don't think he'll ever quite get it. As I finish writing this on a grey lunchbreak with rain lashing both sides of the dim Portakabin where I spend my working days, I print off a Multimap of Newcastle, stick the new CD single in the computer and flick through my photographs again. I wonder where we're going next...?

Cath Aubergine
10-24 May, 2005

Mostly as written in notebook in bars, airport lounges, train carriages and hotel rooms across America. Love and thanks: Chris, Billy, Barb & boyfriend, Adam, Kurt, Pat, Eugene, John, Dee, Vanessa, Julie, Den, Ryan, Sandra; Eamon, Hamilton, Noble, Woody, Yan, Joe, Stan and Roy. And more indirectly: Mark, Reg, John, Dave, Kwasi and Mik Foggin without whom it is quite possible none of this would have happened, and Doll, Kevo, DeLacey, Northern Pete and Alan, without whom it might never have happened again.

All photos on this page by Cath Aubergine. Please do not use without permission.

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