Tour 2018 - Brighton (Day 9) by Mark Messerly

Chuck at the Hope & Ruin - Photo by Lisa Walker

Chuck at the Hope & Ruin - Photo by Lisa Walker

Snack of the Day: Nacho Cheese Flavored Bugles

They may have these in the States but none of us have ever had them. We have the Dorito dust and we have Bugles. How have the endless product innovation meetings not come up with this like 50 years ago? Doritos? Corn chip. Bugles? Corn cornucopia. “Seriously Jerry, why are you so afraid to try this idea?”
“Well the way I see it, if it was such a good idea someone else would have done it a long time ago”

Britishism: Winder

The turny handle thing for raising and lowering car windows. I looked it up to make sure I had heard correctly and the term window winder came up. When I first looked at it I thought it said widow winder. Ah ha! Now that’s a term I can work with. Could it be a gigolo who seduces ancient rich widows? Or more along the lines of a tool so dangerous it makes widows of those who use it. And then of course you have to wonder what sort of tool that would be. In my mind I see a very large, unstable spring. Flat like those in a watch. It gets wound to an exciting degree, so that the series of razor blades attached to the whip-end tremble with potential energy. Its use? If you calibrate it just right, it can perfectly peel, core, and slice an apple in one go. Of course if the calibrations are off then noses and toeses are surgically cut right off. When three men were maimed making one apple pie the foreman was heard to say, "If there’s a better way to peel an apple I’d like to hear it.”

The hotel we were staying in was delightful if the word delightful meant, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Joe, John, and I walked into the room and Joe said, “It smells like someone puked in here.” And it really did. We looked around but didn’t find any pieces of corn or other damning evidence. I walked into the bathroom and there was a human pubic hair dangling off the soap dispenser. We asked nicely if we could move rooms but they were inevitably full. In lieu of that a very nice employee came into the room and sprayed so much orchid and passion flower scent I could barely see Joe though the fog. She then sprayed the carpet with a different bottle and said, “It’s safe to walk on.” I asked if she could leave the spray in case the smell came back. She gave me a look and then reluctantly agreed. John sat down on his bed, sniffed and said, “Now it smells like a woman’s armpit in here.” I looked at the can and sure enough, she had fumigated the room with deodorant spray. Chuck and Lisa, by sheer coincidence were being housed in a disabled room. This means the shower is in the main room and has no door, walls, or edge to the shower floor. The success of this is predicated entirely on the slope of the floor and the efficiency of the drain. Sadly, the mucous and hair eating drain troll had not yet returned from holiday and their room flooded. A lot. A hotel in a big city is not necessarily better than one in a small town.

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We landed in Brighton with an hour to spare before load in. Brighton was one of our favorite places on the last tour and we were excited to get back there. It’s such a wonderful windy* beach town and appeared unchanged since our last visit. I came across a wonderful antique bookstore where you had to descend a spiral staircase to get to the idiosyncratic selection in the basement. Had a coffee, a chocolate, exchanged some money and wandered over to the club.

The Hope and Ruin is an amazing venue. Right up there with the Musician in Leicester. Run by sensationally nice people, vegetarian food on site, and one of the best sound people in the world. Leon makes every band sound like the way they wished they did on record. We soundchecked, bickered, and everyone went their separate ways.** And this next sentence will be henceforth known as the whole reason this blog exists. Go to Foodilic. It’s a small restaurant that serves buffet style some of the freshest, cleanest, yummiest food I’ve had. Perfect for someone whose body is tired of processed, too rich, road food diets. And for only seven pounds! We’re talking rocket salad, couscous, lentil salad, and citrusy green beans to die for. Joe made vaguely obscene noises while eating the meat, so I have to assume it was equally good. Oh and did you know that Brits go through buffet lines backwards? The correct way is left to right. Especially when the salads are on the left as they were here. Joe and I spawned our way against the current and were gently admonished by Shaun for this faux pas.***

Feeling physically better than I had in days I walked down to the beach to work on the mental side. The fog was so thick you could just see a fuzzy indication of where the end of the pier might be. I spent a happy hour looking for rocks that were trying just a little harder than the others, so that I might lift them from their obscurity and carry them around in my pocket for awhile. I watched the surf and tried to let the timelessness of the sea put all the petty and transient worries in their proper place.**** I was pleased to note that small clots of insular and surly teens squatted in the out of way corners of the beach. The spirit of Quadrophenia being kept alive.

I’m not going to complain about the difficulties that with clockwork precision disrupted our set. Instead I’m going to say that I am proud of us. We had technical issues, broken strings, and voice troubles. All serving to force us to shout out whatever song could be played at that moment with what was available. And we did it. And I think put on a fairly entertaining show. I always tell my students that the essence of live performing is dealing with the unexpected. The ability to roll with the nightly challenges is kind of a big deal for bands. The crowd was generous with their patience and enthusiasm. What a great, little, weird city. It feels like Austin in a way. I get the sense that it’s a very artist/freak friendly. We need more spaces like that.

Tomorrow we cross the Channel!

* windy not windy
** Air keyboard go!
*** We said, "Whatever man."
**** It didn't. Stupid shelfish sea.

Tour 2018 - London (Day 8) by Mark Messerly

Photo from kram srednuas’s Youtube video of Wussy at 100 Club

Photo from kram srednuas’s Youtube video of Wussy at 100 Club

SoTD: Discos Cheese and Onion Crisps - These suck. I mean I wouldn’t kick ‘em out of bed for eating a woman, but I’m not going to pay money for them. Again. They’re of the reconstituted dried potatoes variety of chip. Like a Pringle, but thicker and faker tasting. Meh.

Britishism: Pulling Mussels from a Shell: Shaun says that the phrase from the classic Squeeze song is about the kissing with tongues. Who knew?

I’m so far behind I have to look at my pictures to reconstruct the events. Like “Memento” with more bowel issues. Lisa continues to struggle with the Dengue Fever.* Her characteristic rash eerily playing out the Stations of the Cross. When she had made it to where Jesus falls down for the second time it was decided she should experience the NHS and visit a doctor. The non-lead singers would do the laundry. As is our lot in life. Folding the lead singer’s underwear being the ritual act of submission for the rhythm section going back to Mesopotamian times**

Lisa got meds, and haphazardly folded clothes, (poorly folded clothes being the ritual act of passive aggression from the rhythm section going back to Mesopotamian times) and we lit out for London Town.***

Upon arrival Shaun decided to surprise us by driving by Abbey Roads. When we got to the iconic zebra stripes he said, “OK, you all jump out and I’ll pull up and snap a picture!” Chuck said, “No.” Shaun said, “C’mon!” Chuck said, “I’m not doing it.” Shaun said, genuine puzzlement rising from his voice, “You’re saying no?” “ I leaned in and said, “We don’t really do cute.” Still, it was cool to see the building and all that.

We got to The 100 Club, which I knew had been the site of a legendary early punk festival, but hadn’t looked into it much beyond that. We load in and start looking at the photos on the walls. The place has existed as a club since the 1940’s and in a different configuration had Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman hanging and/or playing. The current family owners bought it in the 1960’s and it hasn’t changed much since. Muddy Waters played there, every punk band you can name played on that stage. The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have played shows there. It’s pretty fucking cool. Also, and I think it’s because I’m dead inside, I wasn’t freaked out by it. I remember playing in Seattle where Nirvana had held a CD release and feeling overwhelmed by the ghosts, but I was mostly feeling like I was going to work. To a job I love granted, but even though there were pictures of Pete Townshend on that very stage I didn’t feel his spirit exhorting me to climb climb climb to those heady heights of “It’s hard. It’s very, very, very, very, hard. So very hard.”

Joe and I went and had a pint at The Blue Post, I went record shopping and scored a sweet Iron Maiden picture disc for my son, ate dinner and took a circuitous route back to the club. I was in the Carnaby Street area and alternated between being amused by the high fashion and ostentation I saw, and feeling cranky that all this wealth should be concentrated in one little area while entire regions are piss poor. I mean there’s nothing wrong with fashion; David Bowie and Paul Weller always looked fucking cool. And they aged in ways I barely dare dream of. But there was also a vibe that maybe the excesses mocked with the Capital City’s citizen’s in “The Hunger Games****” are dangerously close to reality. I’m not judging. The Trump administration has rendered satire moot. America was just ripped by the U.N. for having whole regions in abject poverty. Also, I can be moody.

Back to the club and the band before us, Hurtling, were fucking great. Keep an eye out for them. We had easily the biggest crowd we’ve had in the U.K. and were playing arguably the most historic venue we’ve ever played. So how did we do? Ok. Pretty good. I remember our first big New York shows feeling the same way. Everyone pushing so hard for the magic to happen that it never goes from five disparate elements into one cohesive whole. If we’re lucky enough to come back we’ll probably get closer to that say anything, play anything, ride the wave of whatever that particular night is bringing thing that is us when we’re at our best. I know some bands can achieve a Broadway***** levels of consistency, but the rock I love needs to feel like it could fall apart or catch fire at any moment. Please God don’t let rock get codified and safe.

So in the end, I can’t believe we got to play the 100 Club. I can’t believe that many people showed up to see us in a whole different country. And I’m just really grateful for it.

Tomorrow is Brighton

*Or a sinus infection.
** You think They Might Be Giants have lost it? Check that one out.
*** Some are calling “What Heaven Is Like” our "London Town", but I’ve never heard it.
**** Fuck off - the first book was good.
***** I love Broadway. “Wicked” is the tits.

Tour 2018 - Leicester (Day 7) by Mark Messerly

Wussy at The Musician in Leicester -  Photo by Blue Straggler

Wussy at The Musician in Leicester - Photo by Blue Straggler

SoTD: Tunnock’s Milk Chocolate Tea Cakes - Oh my God, I would kill kittens for one. I’d horde them with a vehemence that would make Mammon blush. Like a Keebler Pinwheel in the States but better in every way. Firstly, instead of marshmallow on top of the cookie it’s Italian meringue. And there’s actual non-waxy chocolate covering it. Or as we like to say in the van, enrobing it. Given to us by a fan at the Brighton show I did not have a chance to thank them. So a big thanks to you!!

Britishism: Trimming Both Sides of the Hedge - Shaun told me what it means but I feel you’ll have more fun making up your own!

The morning in Cardiff I went for a walk along a stream, and through a bridge under the motorway that looked just like the one in "Les Revenants" where Serge ate people’s livers. I noticed that everything in this part of Wales was either rusting or growing moss. It was of course raining so I decided to compare annual rainfalls. Mawsynram in India has the most with 11, 871 mm. In Britain, Swansea gets the most rain with 1,360.8 mm. Cardiff comes in 5th with 980.8 mm. For comparison, in the United States, Seattle gets 965 mm per year. So wetter than a group of spinsters at a Ewan McGregor convention.

Before leaving Wales Shaun took us to the transporter bridge in Newport. It was a little more downtrodden than the other one but still a delight. We have now ridden two out of the three transporter bridges in the UK. There are only eight of these still working throughout the world.

We were playing the Musician and were looking forward to it. It’s got to be one of the best small venues in the country. It’s a roomy stage, has an amazing sound person, good sightlines, awesome staff, and a weird little green room tucked behind the stage. It’s located in a grey corner of the city and I had learned last time not to judge the whole city by this part. Walking around looking for dinner I couldn’t help but feel like things in Leicester are maybe not going as well as when we were here last. There were few people out and about and more beggars. I hope I’m wrong and it was just gray mid-week evening. And please be assured I’m not slagging Leicester. We’ve had two of our best shows there and goodness are the fans lovely. We played our best show of the tour so far. When I say best show, I’m talking about how well we played, not the crowd reaction or how much fun we had. Some nights the parts all come together and we become a singular thing. Most nights we get close. Some nights we play like the empathy booth at an NRA convention. i.e. depressed and depressing. It’s a funny thing, living out of your comfort zone, spending way too much time in very close proximity with the same group of people and hoping that sleep deprivation, screwed up dietary schedules, barely contained resentments, and fussy equipment all slip away for an hour and a half of shared catharsis and noisy joy. It does often enough to keep us hoping and trying though.

The last two nights came together in a delightful, sustaining way. Thanks!!

Tomorrow is London.

Tour 2018 - Cardiff (Day 6) by Mark Messerly

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SoTD: Cheesy Wiggles from ASDA - These are standard cheese doodles. Nothing notable once you put it in your mouth. The reason I’m reviewing at all is the smell. If someone made fists with their feet in a vat of blue cheese, put on thick wool socks and then walked a fortnight through the desert you’d be there. The flavor is so disappointing after the smell emanating from the bag. Shaun hated the stench and banned it from the van.
Britishism: It’s a bit blowy out there - i.e. windy

I don’t remember much from the drive into Cardiff. I saw a Vespa with Mod stickers. Honestly we were all in pretty pissy moods for one reason or another.

Well actually one of them was obvious. When we played Edinborough on the last tour the six of us were booked into a single room of a youth hostel across the street from the club. The useless lift, the communal bathrooms, the partying eurotrashpackers, bunk beds, a night of snoring soaring farting sleeplessness. We said never again. We are truly not a fussy band. Our rider is water and a few beers if you can spare them. But we’re also too damn old for that shit. It takes days to come back from a night like that. So when we pulled up to a place I think was called Nomads, with a picture of a backpack on the sign, we were dubious. When we walked in Lisa looked around, asked the desk clerk if the bathrooms were shared. He replied, “Yes.” Lisa shook her head and said, “Fuck this, I’m out.” We trudged back to the van and set about finding pretty much any place else to sleep.

So it was grey and pissing rain when we got there, but we were able to pull right up to the club. We were to be playing the Moon, where we played our previous visit. If you’ll recall there was an enormous rugby match happening at the nearby stadium last time, necessitating us to carry/drag our equipment for half a mile because they had closed all the surrounding roads. Not this time mister. Other things had changed as well. This time we went down stairs to a different room and stage. The Moon is a rock club, all stickers on the walls and a drawing of Lemmy behind the bar admonishing us all to not be dicks. The stage was contained by a wooden railing creating a bandfold as it were. The ceiling was maybe 6.5 ft high, which is why my guitar has several new dings in it. While the soundman was working Joe and I went in search of a nearby beer. The place next door, a blues/jazzy type whiskey bar was open and we climbed the stairs to realize that was where we had played last time. The owner took us on a tour, “Remember the bathrooms? (legendary for their piquancy) No more!” and flung the ladies door open. They smelled like Hera’s morning breathe. It was a miracle. Everything was different and practically posh.

Back at the Moon we loaded our gear onto the stage. It was clearly Whovian in that I didn’t see how we could fit us all on it, but somehow not only did we fit but it was quite comfortable. After soundcheck I had very little time to eat and explore. I ate a veggie burger with a disc of honey-glazed goat cheese, which needs to happen again in this life, and tried to find an area that was maybe a little more where people lived and less big fuck-off buildings. I walked by what seemed to be a university area, the theater district, and wound up back by the castle. I went into the park and spied the keeper of the keys standing resolutely by the gate, giving me a dispassionate glance as if to say, “Yar, I’ve locked you in once and I’ll do it again.” Each park bench contained a pair of entwined young people snogging as if life giving proteins could be extracted from each others uvulas. Tired and still somewhat dispirited I made my way back to the club. And then the tour miracle happened. The crowd was magnificent and we finally played in a way that felt like we were getting our legs back. It’s really important that that happens on a tour. If you feel like you’re never quite getting it then the frustrations grow and you don’t get that release of “Oh right, that’s why we do this!”

And the hotel we ended up in felt luxurious in its amenities. By which I mean it was the first hotel we’d been in with air conditioning. We’ll discuss air conditioning in the UK at a later date. We may have to agree to disagree.

Tomorrow is Leicester

Tour 2018 - Glasgow & the Lake District (Day 5) by Mark Messerly

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SotD: Sweet Chili and Sour Cream by Deluxe
Finally a winner! Deluxe appears to be the store brand for the Lidl supermarket chain. We were in Cardiff and they were quite inexpensive. Seriously, it’s about the perfect crisp. Tastes like real sour cream and is just a bit spicy. Chuck says it tastes like Play-D’oh but his palette leans more towards wagon train cuisine.

Britishism: tosser - jerk, idiot.
It just doesn’t work with the American accent. But to hear Shaun fling it at an incompetent driver is a thing of beauty. “You bloody tosser!”

The wonderful thing about bandmates who rouse themselves with the alacrity of a grizzly bear in January getting up to let the cat out, is the opportunity to explore. My disappointment at seeing so little of Glasgow disappeared when I realized I could squeeze in about 2.5 hours. We were staying practically under the highway across the River Clyde from the city proper. It feels anticlimactic to call such an important body of water Clyde. I read the history, I know why it’s named Clyde, but there is nothing that says it can’t be given a more noble designation. Would it be OK if the Mississippi was called Kevin? Or the Nile named Gary? No it would not. I will not presume to offer suggestions to such a deep and wonderful culture, but if one were to press me, I might think the River Gillan has a nice ring to it.

I crossed a footbridge on my way to Georges Square and picked up a greasy and gritty Glaswegian glazed gourmet doughnut and coffee. Coffee was good though. The square itself is typical of the form with statues scattered about, including an 80 ft high anatomically correct column erected in honor of Walter Scott, and a stubbier statue dedicated to Robert Burns. Proving there was a time when statues were being built for poets and authors. Fancy that. The City Chambers is gorgeous and the World War I monument appropriately large and touching. That said, there wasn’t much shaking and the people watching slow going, so I scampered off to the Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery resides in a neoclassical building built in 1778. Museums and libraries are my happy places and this one was a cracker. (to use the regional colloquialism) An aspect I would like to see all other museums adopt was a huge library open to the public for free, with 48,000 books on art and other less important things. I loved everything about it. The juxtaposition between the old architecture and the modern art did both a favor, the exhibits were top notch, and my mood was transformed. I was pleased to see the iconic statue called the Duke, (i.e. the Duke of Wellington) with his traffic cone hat. It’s a delightful bit of Glasgow pride that for over 30 years whenever the government removed the cone hat, within days a new one would appear. After an ill-advised plan to raise the plinth* in order to discourage the be-hatting, a worldwide movement rose up and finally forced the government to concede that it’s pretty fucking funny.

On the way out I saw a brochure for something called the Lighthouse that looked cool and was on the way. The Lighthouse is Scotland’s Center for Design and Architecture. And while I have an idea what that means for the average person I’m not quite interested enough to figure it out. However! The thing that was super cool was that the tower itself was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commision to be built, and one can climb a shit-ton of spiral stairs to end up at the top with a fresh air view of the city. Lovely.

I quite liked Glasgow although I really just dealt it a glancing blow. I love the massive, timeless architecture. I felt a humor and energy there that made me instantly feel like this was a place I could work and spend time. And of course the people of the north are God’s people.**

I got back to the hotel just in time for us to leave for Kendal in the Lake District. We were driving part of the way to Cardiff so this was a day off of sorts. Shaun and I were excited because of the sheepfolds. Sheepfolds were the pens shepherds used to minister to the sheep, trims hooves, etc. They harken back to an older time (or is it a younger time?) and have either disappeared or fallen into disrepair. In the Cumbria County they commissioned Andy Goldsworthy to celebrate “this perfect republic of shepherds.” Andy Goldsworthy is an artist I’ve loved for years but because of the natural nature of his art it’s not something you find in museums. (there is a really cool piece in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art - proving that everything I say is a lie) Goldsworthy produces, to quote the internet, “site-specific sculptures in natural and urban setting using natural materials and the passage of time.” He’s brilliant. His creativity, skill and what would appear to be the patience of Sisyphus, creates art that sometimes lasts only minutes, or melts as the sun rises. Or these revived sheepfolds could last a hundred years. Here’s a link to the project if you’re interested. http://www.edenbenchmarks.org.uk/sheepfolds.htm

These were the directions we had to follow to find just two of them.

near Kendal (SD 460 931 & SD 460 932)
DIRECTIONS: The site has two folds each containing a large boulder into which a mountain ash tree has been planted. At Underbarrow, between Kendal and Crossthwaite, take the road toward Crook for about 1 mile. The folds are south of Mountjoy Farm through a gate on the opposite side of the road. Walking up the slope, one fold is diagonally to the left, one to the right. The original tree growing in a rock is on the fell above.

This lead us deep into some of the prettiest farm country I’ve ever seen. Everything the cliche of British countryside evokes in you exists right here. The beautiful stone walls spider-webbed over rolling hills, dividing up emerald green fields dotted with fuzzy, white, bleating, shit machines and their deceptively innocent looking offspring.*** The roads were windy and narrow for a large band van and we had to drive a mile down the road before finding a narrow space to tuck it away. We walked under tunnels of trees, passed a cat sitting on an ancient stone wall, staring at us balefully while waiting in vain to hear the words that would prove our worth and admit us entrance to the magical realm currently under siege from the soulless clan know cryptically as “The Developers.” Once admitted we would be tasked to battle them in many small local committee meetings held at inconvenient times in airless city hall basements. Oh, and we saw a pheasant!

We walked through fields assailed by the angry baa-ing of spoiled lambies and stumbled upon the folds. They don’t look like a piece of art any more than the walls that surround them do. Which is to say they do. These two were reconstructed in such a way as to seamlessly integrate into the landscape. When you look closer you notice the details that turn them into something new. What a delightful few hours.

We got back, after barely squeezing through the increasingly narrow labyrinthian country lanes to pick up everyone else, get some dinner, and to decide that we would try to race the sunset to Windermere lake, lying about a half an hour away. Dinner did not agree with me so I held on as we wound through the darkening landscape with what I’d like to think was the grim stoicism of say, Percy Fawcett?

Windemere is obviously a major vacation spot. It was bright, full of lakeside shops and hotels. Very charming. Like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” or a classy Myrtle Beach. It’s the largest natural lake in Britain and is home to the World of Beatrix Potter. I guess she lived or wrote around here. Did you know that when she died they found the bones of literally thousands of bunny rabbits in her basement? Apparently she dissected them in order to try to get to their essence and portray them more accurately. Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper became sadistic overlords and are still whispered about during story time at fuzzy baby bunny sleepovers. It’s true.

We enjoyed the sun setting over the mountains and called it a day. Tomorrow is Cardiff.

*”Raise the plinth” makes me giggle.
** I’m not religious. I spent ten minutes trying to come up with a better description and couldn’t. I love how no one seems to get overly fussed about anything, look as if they’re gauging exactly what level of idiot you are, but then everyone when you actually meet them is as open, kind, helpful, and inclined towards laughter as you could ever imagine.
*** Don’t turn your back - they’ll cut a bitch.

Tour 2018 - Glasgow (Day 4) by Mark Messerly

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SoTD: Hippeas - organic chickpea puffs, Far Out Fajita Flavor.
I’m sorry. In my attempt to bring you unique salty snacks I’ve gone too far afield. I mean there was no way these were going to be good. It’s fucking powdered chickpeas reconstituted into a cheese doodle shape and sprinkled with store bought fajita seasoning. Now if they had called it astronaut hummus then I’d have been excited. Pretend you’re on the Apollo missions and pop some dried hummus in your mouth, add saliva and it turns into a dip-like paste in your mouth. Wow!

Britishism: Fox Rain - Brought to you today by the band Say Sue Me. They’re labelmates on Damnably Records and hail from South Korea. Shaun toured with them immediately preceding us. One day a rain shower popped up and the band said, “Oh look, fox rain!” Shaun of course asked what that meant and they told him this wonderful legend: The rain cloud sees the fox and falls hopelessly in love. It pursues the fox endlessly hoping for just another glance. The fox wants merely to lie in the sun and is unaware of the cloud’s desire. So whenever the cloud catches up to the fox, bringing with it the rain, the fox jumps up and runs away until it is in the sun again. So the next time a brief rain shower pops up know that the cloud briefly found the fox again.

Our hotel was just off the highway and I feared for my perambulations. I walked on a grassy patch next to the road and came on a small road with a few horsey farms. The first field I came to contained a single horse who upon seeing me ambled straight over, let me pet it, and began to graze right there. I said “I will name you Steve and I will hug you and pet you and squeeze you.” I walked for several miles along fields and through small wooded areas. Nothing much happened. I saw a lapwing and gloried in the sunny British countryside.

It made no difference at all

It made no difference at all

We were late leaving the hotel (not my fault I swear) and Shaun said we wouldn’t be able to stop at the Angel of the North. But at the last minute he said, “Fuck It- I’ve never not stopped with a band here,” pulled off the exit and said “ 5 minutes tops.” The Angel of the North is a huge metal sculpture created by Antony Gormley. It’s 66 ft tall and has a wingspan of 177 ft across. It’s right next to the A1 motorway so according to the BBC it’s seen by one person every second. People were having picnics on it’s lee side and children were running up and tumbling gleefully down the hill leading up to its base. I tapped one of the ribs of steel that give it its distinctive look, expecting a gonging sound, but it was solid steel. So substantial and wonderful, draped in a rusty brown color so distinctive a flower has been named after it. I saw a small memento mori with a sign that said, “you are loved.” I scoffed and said loudly to the happy people around me, “Love is an artificial construct designed to subjugate the weak-minded.” Then I kicked the sign over and stomped on it.*

I’ve never been to Glasgow before and the prospect of a new grand city is especially exciting. Lisa was feeling poorly with a bad cold or allergies and the energy of the band was at a bit of a low ebb. We went straight to the Centre for Contemporary Arts, which is where we were playing. The CCA is a beautiful facility with a cafe’ serving tons of vegetarian food, an exhibit space, and a performance space, all done up in modern clean interiors and full of beautifully cool people who occasionally stop in mid-stride, put the earpiece of their glasses into their mouths and mutter, “How is a crow like a MacBook Pro?” and then shake their heads and move on.

We set up and soundchecked. The space was incredible. Sounds barely echoed at all. Thus the sound on stage was the best I’ve ever had. I could hear everything but it didn’t seem loud at all. It was a big room and I was trying not to worry as to whether anyone would show. One of my favorite bands of all time is Superchunk. They don’t tour a bunch anymore and haven’t been to Glasgow in 17 years. The best time to remedy that would of course be the same night we made our debut. Several people had come to see us in Durham the night before because the were going to see them. I didn’t blame them. I would too. There’s only so many fans of MAWGR (Middle-Aged White Guitar Rock) left and soon we will find ourselves in the position of classical orchestras, playing to an audience of bald and blue-haired old dears suffering attrition during the intermission due to death, leaky bladders and full colostomy bags. We heard through the grapevine that they were having a time of it. Apparently the airline had misplaced their instruments coming over from Ireland, and then the hotel had sold their rooms. Proof there’s no such thing as a free ride even if you’ve put out one of the best albums of your career. Their new record “What a Time To Be Alive” is that most rare of things; a record with smart lyrics that rocks from beginning to end, with songs you can sing after it’s done. Anyway, Godspeed and all that.

By the time I finished the best veggie reuben I’ve ever had (by a long shot) I had to accept I wasn’t going to see much of Glasgow. Interestingly, we were opening for ourselves again this night and I was to join Chuck and Lisa onstage and play a few of my songs. I was unprepared and my voice was croaking like an underwater cow’s fart, but I didn’t care because the world is descending into fire and a few songs with pedestrian verses** won’t make much of a ripple either way. I played Conversation Lags and Chuck and Lisa sang. It was fun.

We had a nice audience. Somewhere in size between my fears and best hopes. They were of course the most discerning and clever people this side of Hadrian’s Wall. We’re playing a little better every night, and when Lisa’s voice gave out on “Beautiful,” our last song of the night, and Chuck jumped in to sing with her it was ragged and moving in the best way.

Tomorrow will be a driving day.

*none of that’s true
**Scott Hutchison being on my mind all day.

Tour 2018 - Durham (Day 3) by Mark Messerly

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SoTD: Captain Tiptoes presents Lapsnack Habas Picante - Described as Incredibly British Spicy & Crunchy Broad Beans. Before I discuss the foodstuffs let me relay the pithyness written on the back of the sack. “That snipped, clipped stiff upper lipped, erect and square to the front Captain Tiptoes (assisted by Monica Cheesewax, the strangely beautiful daughter of Mr. Heritage Parsnip) bring you these perfectly shock resistant little beanies…” I’m not British and maybe this is a culturally acceptable level of cuteness, but ye gods does it piss me off. These are not snacks for children, that being the only possible excuse. Children wouldn’t eat them because they have more sense than the unshaven pork pie hat wearing aging hipsters these are meant for. As a snack what they’ve got going for them is that they’re not too greasy and don’t upset my stomach. When you bite into them they dissolve into a chalkiness that is almost not unpleasant. Their spiciness is wildly overstated - like the health benefits of having your ductwork professionally vacuumed, or the sexiness of skin tags. I don’t know, they stave off peckishness I guess.

Britishism: Screw Face - Stink Eye

Shaun quite kindly offered to drive Joe back into York (we were half an hour away) so he could spend the morning with his family and then take a train to Durham. That left us an hour before we had to get back and pick up the slugabeds at the hotel. I, quite triumphantly decided to go to the National Train Museum, devoted entirely to the works of Pat Monahan. They fucking love him there. Kind of like the Germans and Hasselhoff. In the much smaller section though there were a number of magnificent steam engines. One shed contained several of the Royal Carriages, including Queen Victoria’s train. Apparently she was the first Queen to ride by train, the chugging rhythm tickling her nethers in a way that was morally acceptable. The other shed was just massive, akin to the hangars in the Dayton Air Force Museum. And it was glorious. Huge, shiny, intricate machines with lots of valves, huge levers, and innumerable important looking dials. There’s a working turntable, a bullet train, and ummm…. a nice green one and oh hell, I don’t know shit about trains. They were just beautiful machines. You should go.

We left for Durham and with Joe gone we were able to indulge in our favorite pastime - discussing how cute he is when he sleeps. It’s breathtaking.

The drive held some nice treats. We passed the White Horse of Thirsk. It was designed and financed by Thomas Taylor, around 1857. He had seen the chalk horses in the south of England and wanted one too. It’s a 314 ft long and 228 ft high horse carved into a hillside. The seemingly difficult obstacle of the rock in the north being limestone and not chalk was overcome by dumping six tons of limestone to change it from grey to white. It still needs the occasional touch up. I just read that during WWII it had to be covered because it made too good of a target for German bombers.

We stopped for lunch at Middlesbrough. We were introduced to a place called Union Jacks that sold Pieminister pies. These are savory, pretty much what we’d called pot pies, and we’re told an outstanding version of them they are. They were fantastic of course but the thing that made me happy was something you could buy called Parmo or Teesside Parmesan. I’ll just let the internet describe it: “Whereas Chicken Parmesan is a flattened slab of chicken, pan-fried while coated with breadcrumbs and then grilled with Parmesan cheese, a Parmo involves deep-frying the chicken in an egg and breadcrumb batter, then smothering it in Bechamel sauce, before finally grilling with cheese.” Chuck and Lisa had it and said it was, if not life changing, at least pretty damn good. The reason I was pleased even though I’m a vegetarian is I’m always thrilled to find local or regional customs that survive the globalization of culture. You don’t have to like Cincinnati chili to be pleased that there is something made and massively consumed in our region of southern Ohio that is almost unique to it.

The next bit was something Shaun was quite excited about. The food took longer than expected to come out and Shaun began driving with purpose whilst muttering under his breath. We were hurtling through an industrial type area and after going round a curve in the road saw a large blue structure traversing the River Tees. It was the Tees Transporter Bridge and a relatively rare type of bridge it is. Basically you drive onto a platform which is an open air gondola that can cross the river in 90 seconds. It was built in this manner because of a 1907 Parliament decree stating that river traffic must remain unaffected. We pulled up just as they were loading for the last crossing of the day. Mind you, it was only 3:00 in the afternoon and apparently closes for an hour at lunch as well, but Shaun said it’s volunteers run it so this relaxed approach to river crossings is better than none I guess. We crossed satisfyingly and then sat on the far bank and ate our pies, trying to ignore the discarded couches, refrigerators, and clothing.All the while hoping to avoid the bodies undoubtedly strewn about like eggs at a blind kids house on Easter morning.

On to Durham. I was quite excited because Durham possesses a world class cathedral and castle perched on the bluff above the River Tyne. If I lived there I would visit the Tyne daily.* We were playing the Old Cinema Launderette and as we pulled up I noticed we were nowhere near a river, stream, brook, creek or cathedral. Just a stretch of suburban looking street that could be anywhere. So be it. The Laundrette is a tiny space that functions as a small laundromat, bar, and music venue. It was super cute and hipstery. We had been told we would have to be very quiet and this turned about to be very true. There was no opener so Chuck and Lisa would do a duo set and then the band would try to create a set that didn’t rise above the level of a living room stereo. We set-up in front of the dryers, soundchecked, and busted out for the hour available to us for dinner. Shaun is Celiacs and he had been told there was a fish and chip shop in the city center that could make gluten free fish. This is where those of us with dietary restrictions come in handy. Because of this shop we were forced to leave the neighborhood and I got to at least see in passing the cathedral. We walked through narrow ancient streets and ended up eating in the town square, surrounded by awesome people watching. The women of the north in particular once again proving their imperviousness to the cold and their wizard-like ability to walk with startling rapidity on cobblestones wearing towering high heels. There was statue of Neptune that’s 270 years old, and a timeline tracing the history of the city back to AD 995 when it was founded by an instance of divine intervention.** Would love to visit again and do this lovely city justice.***

On the way to dinner we came up with a list of songs we thought could be played quiet enough to not incense the person living above the laundrette. Exciting and terrifying. I love playing a varied set but we had not played a bunch of these songs in years. We’re not the E Street Band. We can’t play a whole catalog at the drop of a hat. Well, we can, just not well. Like tonight! Here’s a sampling of some of the songs we attempted this cozy night: Motorcycle Song, Little Paper Birds, Don’t Leave Just Now, and Acetylene. I can’t remember what else, but it was definitely “A Very Special Needs Evening with Wussy.” It was fun though, the audience absolutely dear, and Joe even played the piano on “Beautiful.”

Tomorrow is Glasgow.

*Everytime I come upon the Tyne I’m struck by how moist and wet it is...
(Fuck - Durham is on the River Wear. Well that’s a pretty big thing to get wrong but I’m not ready to let go of my joke just yet.)(or ever it seems)
** Matthew Sweet’s best song? Perhaps.

*** Or Claire's. Or Forever 21. Whichever.

Tour 2018 - York (Day 2) by Mark Messerly

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SoTD: Onion Rings by Sainsbury’s - Similar in flavor to Funyuns but described as onion flavored maize and wheat semolina snacks. I’m ambivalent. After a drink they’re better than a fevered wank,* but when you eat them you get a feeling as if your body is rejecting them. Not forcibly, but a gentle wave of sweet nausea passes through you similarly, if on a much smaller scale, to that first prick of morphine you recieve after a mortar attack on your trench has removed your shin. Or not. Salty, very slightly spicy, with a definite tear the roof off of your mouth texture.

Britishism: Absolute Cack - piece of shit. Kath apologized for the directions to the load-in at the BBC. “Oh you got the old directions didn’t you? Sorry, those are absolute cack. The new ones are superlative.”

Holiday weekend traffic sucked so we didn’t get into York until 3:00 with load-in being at 4:00. We bopped down to the Shambles, the open air market and twisty narrow road-ed shopping area in the old town center area. Think Diagon Alley, and with three shops devoted to Harry Potter within 100 feet of each other you’re clearly meant to, and you’ll have an idea.

We were playing at the Crescent, as we did last time here. The show was put on by, what one person with the necessary knowledge described as one of the only honest promoters in the business, the fabulous Joe Coates. He’s just a kind, endlessly amusing man. Both shows he promoted had full houses so obviously good at his job as well. We loaded in at 4:00 but due to a sound ordinance could make no noise until 6:00. By the time soundcheck was over we had maybe an hour and a half before showtime. Alas, exploration of the magical city of York would largely have to be relinquished. Shaun and I had an amazing meal at a place in the Shambles called El Piano. Everything is vegetarian and gluten free so we were set. We ate sitting on a bench facing the Minster Cathedral. We passed the birthplace of Guy Fawkes and tipped our hats to the failed hairy plotter. If you’re not familiar with Guy Fawkes look him and the gunpowder revolution up. The failure of the plot to blow up the King is now yearly celebrated with the burning of effigies and dispensing of fireworks. His goal was to restore Catholicism to England via blood and fire, which is rather hard to get behind. Let’s see, I’ll take “More Murder for God” Alex. We have in the states our own failed, possibly batshit revolutionary, by the name of John Brown. His suicidal attack on Harper’s Ferry is barely talked about much less celebrated with fireworks. His goal was to light the flame that would free the slaves. And some say in that at least he succeeded. Violence is abhorrent but I’d rather celebrate a bonkers man who thought he could systematically take down slavery rather than that mass-murdering fuckhead Christopher Columbus. Oh, and did you know that using the word guy to refer to a man comes directly from Guy Fawkes' name. Initially it meant a poorly or oddly dressed man, but by the time it travelled across the ocean it just meant male. Now you know…..

Joe’s family, containing a grandmother, two babies, and three adults were travelling up from North Cumberbatch, or wherever, and got stuck in six hours of traffic. There was vomiting, crying, Ted Talks, and desperation. Joe was stressed and worried, Chuck was frustrated trying to play on a series of borrowed guitars, and I, while walking back to the venue had looked down into some medieval storm drain and heard the abyss yell, ”Tag!!” Great. I had hoped it would take longer to find me seeing as I had put an ocean between us, but now it was once again my turn to look back into it. So we were in tender shape considering it was only our second show. The audience was attentive but quiet enough to make us wonder if we were going over. When the show was done though they erupted into gleeful shouting and showered us with enough praise so as to make us feel like we had found a long lost family.

I love love love this city.
Tomorrow is Durham

*I’m in England. It’s fun. Leave me alone.