UK 2011 Blog IV
August 21st, 2011
Oh, my head. Where are we? What have I been doing? What the hell’s been going on?
Sorry, we’ve been enjoying some time at the Edinburgh Fringe over the last days, and those days have quite possibly done damage to our short term memory. More on the specifics of this later. All I’ll say for now is that you know I’m possibly the least partying member of the band, and I feel a bit stretched, like delicious saltwater taffy. Mmm, deliciously dehydrated and somewhat whiskey-sweat-smelling saltwater taffy! So, just imagine how Ben, Graham, Ed, and Jake are feeling!
I’m currently riding in the front seat of the van, a position that is usually inhabited by Lilac Eddie Brogan, but does occasionally fall to one of the rest of us. It’s the best view of passing landscape, possibly the most comfortable seat in the van as well. As an added bonus, you get a running commentary from Gerald on, as I’ve said before, the state of other drivers mental and physical well-being, a wide array of Scottish history and culture, music trivia, and just what bothers him most about . . . well, you. Besides providing an ear and occasional rejoinder, it is the shotgun passenger’s solemn duty to roll acceptable cigarettes for the driver and be empathetic to the near-daily foibles of the Sat-Nav, that generally gets us pretty close to the mark, but frequently falls just short of the mark by a roundabout or two.
We’re currently jamming to Steely Dan – a favorite of many in this band. Not just for the totally phallic band name, rocking guitar and drum solos (Steve Gadd on the song “Aja,” comes to mind), but also for the frequently perv-y lyrics and lounge crooner swagger of Donald Fagen. Maybe we just wish we were part of the 1970′s LA coke and teenage girl scene, too. Probably that. Anyway, those who disparage the Dan . . . you need to listen more closely.
I know that there were days between my last blog and this moment, so let’s see if I can do a little recollecting. Let’s get into the wayback machine, shall we?
August 12, 2011
We had a fun gig in Neilston at the Neilston Bowling Club. One thing that’s very lacking in the USA (or, at least the USA that WE live in) is a preponderance of bowling clubs. I know you’re thinking to yourself, “What are you talking about, PF, every town has any number of bowling leagues! Why, your hometown of Richmond VA even has duckpin bowling leagues!” Well folks, you know we love to knock down pins and slug back pitchers of beer, but that’s not what I’m a’talkin’ about! I’m talking about lawn bowling clubs. I’m talking about a lovely little manicured patch of grass, I’m talking about tossing out the jack and then trying to get yer balls as close as possible. I’m talking about fitness! Well, a reasonable amount of fitness, anyway.
It was a fairly well attended show in the nice hall wherein the Neilston Bowling Club holds their socials and awards dinners (sorry, I’ll drop this thread in just a second. Just indulge me in my momentary obsession). We were able to whip some attendees into enough of an excitable state such that they were lifted from their seats and compelled into moving their feet and legs in a rhythmic fashion! At first we were a little concerned that perhaps that they were experience some kind of neurological phenomenon or had ants in their pants, but it turns out that this is called dancing, and sometimes people do it to music.
There was a women, now a Scot, who was originally from Texas at this gig, who questioned my Southern-ness. Not sure if it’s my Semitic appearance or total lack of an accent, but it’s not a foreign topic of conversation for me, although I (as all of us in this band) am a Virginian through and through. However, it’s not all location, right? And, a pal said to me this year at Mt. Airy, “Just because the cat has her kittens in the oven doesn’t make ‘em biscuits!” So, I guess I’m just a kitten in the oven, mewing and clawing at the door.
Anyway, back to the point, thanks to all who came out in Neilston, we had a blast!
We traveled way east to the tiny fishing village of Pittenweem in the East Neuk of Fife. That’s right, I said Neuk. This is the site of the Pittenweem Arts Festival, an annual event that turns the entire town into a giant art gallery. Many of the houses of the town become venues for art of all types. It’s interesting to walk from house to house, invading someone’s parlor (sitting room? drawing room? vestibule?) and checking out art that ranges from the craft-y kind of stuff that one might see at your average street fair to some pretty far out paintings and sculptures. Benny and I took a walk down to the harbor and checked out these amazing found object sculptures by a woman named Helen Denerly. Incredibly realistic alligators, seagulls, dogs, and other animals made mostly of bike chains, nuts, bolts, and other pieces of metal.
Our gig that night was Sold Out. Again, we realize that selling out a room of ~125 people isn’t so impressive in the grand scheme of arena shows, but it makes us feel good, you know? Many of you have undoubtedly seen us play in tiny bars to audiences that barely outnumber the band. We feel like we put it out there in all situations, but a room full of stomping, clapping and whooping folks definitely make it easier to muster enthusiasm, you know? So let us have our small victories, eh?
Just to keep things interesting, on this day we traveled from Pittenweem to Irvine. ALL THE WAY from the east coast to the west coast of Scotland. It literally took us . . . two and a half hours. Phew! We felt a bit like Lewis and Clark, with Gerry acting as our very own Sacajawea. Heading west! The wild frontier! Yeeha!
We’ve been to Irvine a number of times before, another lovely seaside town. And the Harbor Arts Centre is a cool room, kind of an “in the round” type of theater. It’s hard to know where to look when you have audience on three sides of you, but, as usual, we did our best to connect with every person in the room. One highlight was watching a fan we’d seen before waltz in wearing a Special Ed & The Shortbus shirt. Ah memories. You guys remember when we were just a group of malcontents, singing songs about male prostitutes and telling bathroom jokes on stage? How far we’ve come! Nonetheless, it’s flattering whenever anyone who’s seen us before returns for a second round of plunkety plunk!
It was a nearly full show, and we had a good time. We’ve been working on some new material, and debuted a song there. We don’t, as a rule, practice anymore, so having 5 weeks to be around one another provides us with some good opportunities to work out new ideas (or rehash someone else’s old idea, anyway). So fear not, if you see us again, there will be new songs!
After spending the night at the Glasgow Airport Travelodge (yes, we frequent Premier Inns these days, but we’re not immune to the charm of a Travelodge – the £19 room for example, or the . . . well, the £19 room, mostly), we headed to Edinburgh for 4 days at the Fringe. Gerry dropped us off at our pal Leonie’s house. Leonie is a friend we made on our last night in Edinburgh last year, after having a fairly drag out argument with the house manager at the venue, we ended up stashing our instruments at her flat, in exchange for which we made her and her flatmates dinner and had a great night of silly hat wearing and carousing. It’s great to know cool people, no?
After arrival, we helped set up a yurt in Leonie’s backyard garden that would house certain band members for the days at the Fringe. Jake and I then headed over to the house of our other hosts of the festival – Sue and Banjo Bill, friends of Paul Johnston, our music pal we met on last visit (see the 2009 blog for a reminder, if you need such things). After settling we hit the streets to busk.
Busking in Edinburgh during the Fringe is a fairly unique experience. There are, of course, the obligatory terrible guitarists with dogs on hemp leashes as there are in any city (how did they hop a train from Richmond to Scotland?), but there’s so much more! You’ve got your bizarre troops of Japanese men and women in skin tight lycra, you’ve got fire jugglers on 10 foot unicycles, you’ve got tap dance troops, string quartets, roaming packs of young Scottish b-boys and b-girls (well, kind of) doing their best breakdance moves, and mini theater performances. The Fringe is, after all, mainly a theater and comedy thing, which suits us fine. While we did see a few other “Americana-y” type people, I feel pretty confidently that we had a lock on the hillbilly, the twangy, and the tangy (showers were maybe not being taken very regularly), and it bore out in your average passerby’s reaction to us. Some people were staring in a way that was more in line with how one stares at an exotic baboon with a bright blue ass, rather than how one stares at a group of spastic strinbanders. Nonetheless, any attention is good attention to us (feel free to examine our psychological pasts, I think you’ll find them to be fairly boring), and we had 4 days of good street music experiences.
Rather than lay out each gig in order, I’ll give you a general description of the whole experience. Our shows this year were held at the amazing house/studio of Douglas Robertson, an Edinburgh photographer and muckraker (we would learn), the kind of guy who seems to know everyone worth knowing. His place is just on the backend of Arthur’s Seat – the giant spent volcano that sits in Edinburgh right next to Hollyrood Palace (well, I think the volcano was probably there first, truthfully). It’s a great location that seems to be kind of a little hidden gem of a neighborhood that’s quite close both to the Newtown and also the heart of the Festival.
The three shows at Douglas’s were all great – reminiscent of the house concerts we regularly play. Appreciative and interactive audiences all three nights, the highlight being Wednesday, when all of our pals came out and had a little dance and whoop-it-up section in the back of the room. After each show, we would set the room back into order and have a little post-mortem of the show with Douglas and his partner Jane-Anne, eating soup and chatting while he practiced his intensely aggressive generosity in re: whiskey. Like many of our fine hosts here, Douglas has many bottles tucked away, and it is our obligation over here to try as many different flavors of single-malt as is humanly possible (who can succinctly explain the difference between peat-y and smokey to me?). From that point, we would head out on the town (or not, depending on the band member).
It’s right here that I’m hoping to get an account from one of the partyboys in the band. As I keep saying, I’m not the late-night type, so was generally back at the flat at a very reasonable 3:30am, and missed the truly late night escapades. However, we’ll see if they get off their duffs in order to make a report. Place your bets now.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what have become our two favorite food spots in Edinburgh (and for all you foodies out there, remember from whom this report is coming and also how limited is our time in this city). One is this little food cart that’s always set up on the Grassmarket, not far from where we like to busk. It’s basically a glorified hot dog cart run by these adorable little French girls (“aha”, I hear you saying, “herein lies the attraction.” But there’s more!). They make these super tasty crusty baguettes with two dogs plus melted cheese (that they grill), onions, mushrooms, and spicy mustard. Yum! They’ll also whip you up a savory crepe and passable filter coffee, and . . . they dance while they’re doing it! Heaven!
The other, which has gotten some mention here before, is Oink – a restaurant right in between the Grassmarket and the Royal Mile. You may have seen our pics of this place. Basically, they roast a hog, and make stuffed sandwiches with apples, haggis, and sage stuffing. If you get there early enough in the day, you can also get a little square of the crispy skin! Very different in taste from our American BBQ places, but similar in concept. Yum.
Other highlights – we got to kick it with our #1 superfan Stephen Clark, who has his own band now – Old Dollar Bill. There is not a less likely person to be playing bluegrass music, but it’s a real treat to see this Russell Brand-looking dude with massive hair, tight jeans, and eyeliner sit down with a guitar and belt out “Crying Holy to the Lord,” in his best Del McCoury high tenor. It was a late night of hijinks with Stephen, so I’m told (Graham, Ben, where’s my copy?).
On our last night at Douglas’s, we had a very funny post-show moment. Someone had gotten a hold of some restricted documents belonging to the speech writers for Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party. It was a series of bulleted fragments and points that appeared to be part of a potential speech on Scotland becoming it’s own nation, and it was full, FULL, of the same garbage’y platitudes that one expects from any politician and his/her cadres of wonks: “We will be unique, we will be much the same, we will be better!” “We will be like China: ambitious and fearless, but we will also be like Japan: ambitious and fearless.” It spawned a great deal of hilarity amongst those of us hanging out and drinking. Hold on a sec, there’s some black suited men at my door. . . . No, just fooling. There was also this great pamphlet from the Department of Forestry (or the equivalent) all about getting more diversity in the worlds of camping and outdoors activities. Specifically there was a passage on a group called “the Hiking Dykes” who “engaged in taster sessions on bushcraft.” Seriously. It said that. Bushcraft. Taster session.
Oh, one more thing coming back to me . . . I was walking down the street and saw in a salon window an advertisement for a “Vajazzle.” Do you know what this is? Well, according to the Urban Dictionary, it’s “to give the female genitals a sparkly makeover with crystals so as to enhance their appearance.” Anyway, it’s not really the process or sight of one that interests me, really, it’s the name. Vajazzle? Seriously? Only here.
There are other memories, I’m sure, but . . . they’re lost right now. In short, the Fringe is a whirlwind that seems to make time stand still and also rush forward simultaneously. Thanks to all who came out to see us!
Gerry picked us up in the afternoon and we headed south to the town of Peebles and the Eastgate Theatre, where we’ve been twice before. The Eastgate is a great little theater, uh, excuse me, theatre, and we’ve always have a somewhat awkward show there due to the absolute quietness of the room. It could also be that we’re just awkward. Probably the latter, maybe. It was a good show, however, with some little scamps in the front who wouldn’t keep still. Their parents eventually removed them, much to our chagrin. We welcome all wriggly small children to our shows, we often feel just that same way. Just make sure to bring earguards. Double banjo isn’t safe for those under 6.
Yesterday we were at the Birnam Arts Institute, another return spot for us. Growing up on Peter Rabbit, Miss Tiggy Winkles as I did, I am always ridiculously giddy to go to the summer home of Beatrix Potter, as well as Birnam Woods, being that my mother would also read us Macbeth every night. Bloody, I know, but a necessary morality tale for children – warn you off of hubris and also of murder.
It was a fabulous night – the show was packed full and we stormed through two sets, including a couple of new songs that we’ve been working on. It was also the first appearance of Colin and Lorna, a couple who saw us multiple times on our last trip over. As I’ve said a million times before, it’s always great to see repeat offenders. It really makes us feel like what we do has some legs to it.
Many of you who’ve seen us recently may notice that it’s no longer just me doing all the talking. Yes, indeed, Ed Brogan, Ben Belcher, Graham DeZarn, and even Jakey have been stepping to the mic to quip and quibble. Ed in particular has had some real gems on stage, all part of his “not trying to be funny” campaign. And so, I’ll leave you with a few of Ed’s gems, both on and off stage.
- Overheard after our gig in Stirling and in regards to his family lineage and the potential for inbreeding: “Look at my eyes, man, far apart is the same way as close apart!”
- At last night’s gig, “There’s a lot of you, and not many of me.”
- Introducing “Feel Like Growing Old,” in Edinburgh: “Here’s a song all about loving someone so much that you want to kill yourself.”
And that’s really just the beginning. As memories flood back to me, I’ll be sure to try and get them onto the page. Only two weeks left!
Hope everyone’s doing well,
PF Hot Seats et al.