Adventures in the Land Beyond
Travelogue, of sorts, featuring British Sea Power, Bohemian
Rhapsody, beer and Buzz Aldrin's pants
How will I ever find my way there?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
the tour, How Will I Ever Find My Way Home appears
on set list under its former title.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 /
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
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?
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.
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
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.
hours in New York
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.
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.
the great cheese-rock behemoth of Queen's Don't Stop Me
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
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.
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
open (end of) season
brunch in a Manhattan bagelry is as hectic as you'd expect.
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.
Bad one 4 wba - soton 1 manu 0
fulham 1 norwich 0 Is there any polite way to eat a peanut
butter and grape jelly bagel?
Soton 1 Utd 1, WBA must win to escape No, there isn't, is
there? Oh well...
Charlton 1 Palace 0, Fulham 2 Norwich 0 Well at last the other
sides are having the decency to get beaten...
Soton 1 Utd 2, WBA 1 Portsouth 0, Fulham 3 Norwich 0, Charlton
1 Palace 1, WBA escape at moment.
:-( Charlton 1 Palace 2, WBA down at moment
Fulham 4 Norwich 0 (Irrelevant now. I like Norwich as a place,
WBA 2 Portsmouth 0. 10mins left. Need Charlton to draw. Nick's
looking a bit down at this point.
Charlton 2 palace 2. WBA escape! 6 mins left.
Escape! Fulham 6 Norwich 0, WBA 2 Portsmouth 0, Palace Charlton
2-2 Soton 1 Utd 2. Escape by 1 point.
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).
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.
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...
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
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...
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.
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
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...
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.
list? Er. Nope, sorry
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.
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...?
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.