UK 2011 Post III

L&N Rag while Busking on Sauciehall Street, Glasgow from Niall Walker

August 11th, 2011: Stirling Scotland

Greetings from bedtime. Well, bedtime for me (PF), anyway; some of the band members are, as many of you know, 24 hour party people.  Now, while I’ve been known to engage in late night exploits, I generally am the first to bed, and therefore the most often messed with while asleep. Oh the goofery and general ass-grabbing that takes place when it’s just the five of us. Well, it’s probably best left to your imagination.

Just finished our gig at the Tolbooth in historic Stirling. I do believe I’ve written about this town before, as it is now our 3rd time here. Nonetheless, it bears repeating that the gig takes place in the historic tax collection spot, directly next to Robert the Bruce’s castle. It’s enlightening, as a person from the USA, to be surrounded by so much oldness. Why, today we saw the (self proclaimed) World’s Oldest Football.  Well, it didn’t proclaim it, but the presenters of the object did. I wonder if there’s any remnants of the World’s Oldest Football Hooligan as well. Perhaps a broken tooth or some illuminated text of a mullet. Something, anyway.

Speaking of hooligans . . . hey, what the hell is going on, England? It’s interesting, again, as an American, to watch all of this unrest unfold. Clearly, a generation raised in poverty and lack of opportunity is bound to be seething with resentment and unchecked aggression. Add some racial disparity and a serious drinking culture on the top, spark it with a police killing, and yer bound to have some riots. However, due to the lack of handguns here, there’s been, like, 4 deaths over 4 days of riots. Crazy. I don’t know this for sure, but it would seem to me that, were the same thing to happen in our fair city of Richmond, VA, there’d be many a bullet-related injury/death on both sides to be accounted for. Not very funny, I know, but worth a mention, I suppose. Thus far, Scotland’s all quiet, so besides the nightly riot of our exuberant audiences, and the occasional Graham or Jake-crazy lady, we’re all good.

OK, so let’s see, I left you on a ferry, let’s see how well I can recall the last 6 days. . .

August 6th, 2011, part 2:

Our ferry landed on the Isle of Lewis without any trouble. On the ride over, there were whales spotted, apparently. I didn’t see ‘em, but that’s how it goes. We were picked up at the terminal by our promoter for the evening, Mike, a fine fellow with a blond kind of mohawk-y type thing and some sweet tattoos. I bit of a jarring image on an island one expects to be populated by tweed=wrapped sheep farmers and gritty salt-cured fishermen (and, I’m sure there are plenty of them as well). Our drive took us across more of the lovely rugged countryside that abounds in the north of Scotland (“Oh look, ANOTHER gorgeous vista of craggy outcrops and verdant hills. Yawn”). Of special note on this drive were the sheep that inhabit the hills. Apparently, the land is mostly public, and farmers are allowed a certain number of head of livestock per acre. Takes me back to my days of learning of the Tragedy of the Commons, though these sheep seemed to have plenty of tasty grass and whatnot on which to munch. And, although there are literally miles of prime greenery in all directions, many chose to eat the sweet shoots that grow directly adjacent to the roadway, making for a super exciting drive. According to Mike, since the tarmac gets nice and warm, one will often find the sheep lying in the middle of the road at night, which much make for eventful drives, especially for the mass of tourists that visit this lovely island.

We made it to the town of Stornoway and were dropped off at our B&B (The Hebridean Guest House, operated by our gracious hosts Linda and Kevin). One other thing worth noting here is that Gaelic is still very much spoken up in these parts, a fact that I find to be very compelling. Makes you feel good to know that the all dominating force of the English colonizing juggernaut couldn’t fully assimilate even the outer reaches of its own island. The Outer Hebrides are wild, I tells ya!

Stornoway is a beautiful little fishing town with a happening downtown and a castle to boot! We slummed around town for the afternoon. There was a street fair going on, and we natural consumers couldn’t help but sample the various wares available to us (paella! unpasteurized French cheese! Harris Tweed). Now, speaking of Harris Tweed, did you know that it’s the only fabric to be protected by an act of Parliament? I didn’t either until I was told not once, but twice in a single day. First by the man who sold me my brand new tweed cap (my old tweed cap, given to me by my grandmother, has seen better days. The lining is wrecked and it’s covered in old fake blood, remnants of many a Zombie Halloween past) and then by Alex, the very cool woman who runs An Lanntair, then venue where we performed that night. Anyway, in order to be Harris Tweed, you see, it has to come from sheep raised on of The Isles Harris or Lewis (actually a single island, but . . .), and it has to be hand-woven. And I’m sure there’s some other things too.

Before the gig, we were treated to a fabulous meal at the venue. The chef (Marchand? HArd to know for sure, he’s Polish and has a thick accent) prepared an amazing set of plates for us. Many of us had the scallops over sweet pea puree with triangles of black pudding covered in chorizo. Others had the pork chops with apples and maple gravy. Yum! We are, as you know by now, food obsessed!

Perhaps it was because of the superb meal, but whatever the reason, we had a great show that night. The crowd was into it from the get go – hooting and cheering in the middle of songs. Note to Scottish crowds: We really don’t mind if you make noise while we play! We appreciate your unflappable politeness, but also enjoy a little raucousness from time to time. Thanks again to Mike and Alex and everyone at the venue, we hope to be back!

After the gig we wandered the streets of Stornoway, ending up befriending some local boys at a pub. I say boys even though they were drinking age, because drinking age is 18 here, and what do you call an 18 year old? A boy. That’s what. We learned some local dialect and also learned not to leave a beer unattended, because if someone drops a penny in yer beer, you have to down it in one. Or, at least that’s what we were told. We won’t be cajoled into getting drunk any faster than we want to, however. The night ended (for some of us, I won’t say which two band members stayed out all night carousing with ladies, I’ll leave that to yer imagination) with some ill-advised but very tasty 2am burgers from a food truck. Truly, we are gourmands!

August 7th, 2011: Stornoway to Banchory

After a leisurely morning in Stornoway Mike picked us up and took us to the ferry, bound for Ullapool. Another easy ride (we’re told the wintertime ferries are not so smooth and nausea free), however, we had a big day of travel yet to go. Because of the particular brand of Free Church of Scotland that’s ascribed to on Lewis, almost nothing happens on Sundays. They used to chain the swingsets in the park so that kids couldn’t swing on Sundays(!). It’s relaxed a bit, but even still, only one ferry runs on Sundays, and not until 2:30pm. Now, when the ferry doesn’t leave you on the west coast of Scotland until 5:30pm, and you have to be on the east coast (almost) for 8pm, how’s your travel time looking? More like you need to time travel. It’s only ~120 miles from Ullapool to Banchory, the site of our next gig, but these aren’t wide, smooth, and straight American roads, folks, this is the Highlands, and if you don’t know what I mean, just try getting from Richmond to Staunton, VA sometime only driving the bluest of blue roads (not even the secondaries, more like tertiaries).

We were met by Gerald (more on Gerry in a paragraph) in Ullapool – where he spent the night in the van – hastened (briskly and brusquely) into the van, and off we went. Gerald managed to turn a 4 hour drive into a 3 hour drive (much to the consternation of the stomachs of those of us in the back of the van), and we rolled up to the spot around 8:45pm. Luckily, Susan, our promoter for the evening had found us an opening act in the form of Isaac Barnes: 12 year old blues-y electric guitar whiz. This kid has real chops, and is about as nice and humble a person as you could want to meet. Probably a bit disconcerting for this poor audience to go from someone as genuinely smiley and cute as he to us grizzled road dogs (ok, maybe I exaggerate a little, but hey). Nonetheless, twas a great time. We were all a bit moon-eyed from our day of travel and zero prep time, but we handled it with our usual graceless panache, and whipped through an hour and a half of raucousness. After the show, we were handed a massive box of food and shown to our accommodations, where we promptly shoved our faces full and passed out (ah the glamorous lifestyle we lead!).

Now, back to Gerry for a second. The thing I failed to mention is that it was his birthday on this day! So, let’s recap. The day before his birthday, Gerry drove from Uig to Inverness and spent the night in the van during an especially nasty rainstorm (even for Scotland). He then met us at the ferry, drove like a madman (a safe madman) to get us to another gig,helped us set up, helped us take down, and then escorted us to our (and his) lodgings. On his birthday. You know that I like to have fun with the verbal abuse we regularly receive from Gerry, but it is a moment like this that really, to me, signifies his professionalism and dedication. Besides, how else would YOU wanna be treated? So let’s hear it for Gerry Roche, a king among road managers and men worldwide!

August 8th-10th: Glasgow

It was an easy drive, relatively speaking, from Banchory to Glasgow. Gerry dropped us at our home for the next three days – Premier Inn Argyle Street. Many of you will remember our dispatches from the Braehead Travelodge. We’ve determined two things since then: (1) We like being in cities rather than suburban wastelands whenever humanly possible; (2) We like Premier Inn better than Travelodge, for one important reason: two beds rather than one. Though I look fondly upon my week with my TeeBee, all a’snuggle in our large Travelodge bed, flipping pointlessly through the limited BBC and ITV channels, walking across the endless parking lot to the ASDA for rotisserie chicken and bag salads, there’s something to be said for being in a room with two beds and within walking distance of . . . basically anything.

The 8th and the 9th were both sunny sunny days, and we capitalized on them by busking on the walking mall. Perhaps it’s our American-ness or our volume, but whatever the reason, we do quite well when busking. It’s also super fun for us, playing tune after tune, doing a little carnival-style barking, and smiling at the pretty ladies, and the old ladies too! And, frankly, there’s a real joy in showing up in a restaurant and paying for the meal with stacks and stacks of 50p coins. Someone caught us picking on the 8th, and you can see the video here.

The evening of the 9th we played in Kilbarchan at the Old Library, which is another gig we’ve played many times before. It’s great, not just here, but everywhere, to see familiar faces and get to catch up with folks that we recognize. It’s also flattering, by the way, whenever anyone knows our names or has kept up on our travels & blogs enough to know what it is we’ve been doing (sidenote: if you’re a Richmonder and you ask one of us, “Are you still playing every Wednesday at Cary Street Cafe?” This means you are NOT doing a good job of keeping up with us.). It was another typically good gig, with an audience that started out somewhat reserved and ended up wriggling in their seats and whooping. We also saw Bobby, our former host at Johnstone Middle School (January of 2009), which was a nice surprise.

The 10th was a much more typical Glasgow day (“liquid sunshine,” Gerry calls it), and was largely spent slacking about the hotel. Well, at least by Ben and myself. The other three braved the rain and walked to the Kelvingrove Museum to check out the art and artifacts. Eddie and Jakey also braved the all-you-can-eat lunch at the Brazilian Churrascaria next door to our hotel. Meat for Power! Meat for Virility! Meat for Success!

And this brings us to our Stirling gig. Again, so cool to play at the Tolbooth and get a chance to walk around Stirling and try and contemplate, “what if WE were in Braveheart?” Now, to be fair to Robert the Bruce, he was not a turncoat in the way the movie made him out to be. William Wallace was, however, something like 7′ tall (or so Gerry says) and pretty powerful. It’s really striking to aproach Stirling (or Edinburgh, for that matter) and see these massive castles carved into rocky cliff-faces and wonder what it was like 500-600 years ago to see such a thing and then expect to storm it. Given the general temperature and wetness index over here, I have to imagine that swamp foot and crotch rot  were constant issues for your average Scottish peasant/royal.

The Tolbooth gig was a good’un, although perhaps less well-attended than we might have wished for. However, as one audience member told me, it’s hard times everywhere right now. We are, of course, eternally grateful for anyone who deems us worthy of their time and money. There was one fellow right up front who was hooting and clapping like crazy, which made a big difference for us, indeed. We’re on the road again, headed to Neilston for the night, then over to Fife on Saturday for the Pittenweem Festival, and then back to the west coast to Irvine at the Harbour Arts Centre. Then, a day off in Edinburgh and three days of the Fringe! We hope to catch some shows while we’re there: Todd Barry, Flick Ferdinando (we saw her 2009 show “Horse” which was both hilarious and somewhat disturbing), maybe Harry Shearer (we’re trying to get Harry to come see us play as well. If you know him, see if you can’t convince him, eh?).

Yesterday was two weeks to the day, still three to go! Come see us play, won’t ye?

And finally, here’s a little fun. Can you match the band member’s face with his . . . pants area? Let’s just see, shall we:

A       1

B       2

C      3

D      4

E       5

Think you know us?  We’ll see!

PF Hot Seats et al.

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