Steve’s Gig Diary: 2001 US Tour, Part Two
Day 6 - Tuesday November 12th 2002
Palm Beach of Venice
Neon, Sunset Blvd
Boddings on Sunset Blvd.
Eventually we hit the check-in and get clobbered with an excess baggage charge (weight allowance not as high on an internal) for a couple of our cases. Things move along a little more quickly when we get talking to the cutest girl on the desk, and I've never seen Duncan move so quickly to get her some freebie CDs. I wonder if she's listened to them?
There is then a perilously long wait for each item to be checked individually by X-Ray, to the particular annoyance of a guy next to us who realises he's been made to wait around for nothing as he hasn't got any bags. The waiting is all the worse for not knowing how long it's going to last.
No major problems at X-Ray, the delay is more down to incompetence than over vigilance which on reflection is a little worrying. We look forward to our flight across the entire continent of America in four and a half hours. Great views as we leave LA, badlands and mountains, before it settles down into squares and squares of green from one state to the next. We fly directly over Kansas City about halfway across. The plane is half the size of the jumbo we flew over in, and there is less movement allowed, so it's a little uncomfortable. The expected major turbulence doesn't really materialise, but we remain belted up for about the last hour and a half of the journey. We land safely in Philadelphia at 4.30pm (1.30pm on the body clock). We get our first taste of Philly attitude from a dude who's sitting by the baggage reclaim as we attempt to locate our gear once again. Hardly any of it turns up on the belt, but this time there is nowhere apparent where the outsize cases are put. This dude, who doesn't appear to have any kind of uniform says "You want your gear?" we don't really know what he's getting at as he leads me out of the airport, and for all I know I could be on my way to a mugging, so I'm saying "Where are we going?" and he's just saying "You do want your gear doncha?" Eventually all is revealed as the gear is in a hold just outside the airport doors, we grab it and wait for the shuttle bus, our very own shuttle bus, straight to the hotel.
As we're boarding, the dude is hassling us for a tip "you got any dollars? money talks, bullshit walks!" I give him five bucks to get shot of him. Unpleasant little man. It's dark by the time we reach the city, and The Divine Tracey Hotel. The lobby looks OK, with some stairs leading up to reception, but when we get there it's like travelling back in time to The Waltons. There's deaf old black guy and his wife who are both at least in their seventies, "What's all this stuff?" he gestures at all our gear, I studiously ignore this question altogether and say "We're booked in under the name Dinsdale" He looks at me like I'm from another planet, "What's His name?" he points at Duncan. "Goddard" I say. He looks in the bookings list, and comes back with a name that's so far off the mark it's ridiculous. The pantomime continues as they check our passports, hand them back to us then ask to check our passports!
They save the punchline until last, presenting us with the hotel rules: No shirts to be worn outside trousers! No Shorts! No blaspheming or foul language (Oh my God!) No Drinking! No Smoking! Ladies Must Wear Stockings! (It's not all bad news then). Of course by now you will have realised that we are in a den of god-bothering misery. Those folks behind the desk are what I would term aggressively religious. Believe me, this isn't the way Jesus would've wanted it, I wish these people would think about what exactly they are trying to achieve, maybe the last few years of their miserable lives would be a bit more purposeful. Inevitably the rooms look like they've been made up by your 90 year old Aunt Gertie. We can't argue with the room rates at a very reasonable $9 a pop though! I comeback down to reception to ask what room Gary and Duncan are in "You do know you're not allowed to visit their room don't you?" she says, I just look incredulously (J-e-e-e-sus!) I knock on their door (rebellious behaviour) we decide to beat a retreat immediately and have crisis talks. Nowhere in the rock and roll dictionary can we find the part that says, "spend time pre and post gigs in a religious nut house and observe their rules of self-denial and temperance at all times". We retire in shock to a nearby diner and get a beer and something to eat while we frantically try and get hold of Chuck.
Chuck is a little baffled at our plight, as a previous guest artiste of his had apparently stayed there quite happily. We already have the number of the only other cheapish hotel in the area, but find out inevitably that this is another establishment where rooms are booked 'by the hour'. After chicken in 'Chili's' Chuck joins us and we go on a full scale hotel search starting with the one over the road from the Tracey. It's way too much, but the guy helpfully gives us a list of all the other hotels. The Best Western looks like a good bet, we attempt to knock them down on the price and manage to get it down to $99 a room. I suggest that if I stay at Chuck's then that will make it affordable, Chuck had extended an invitation to all of us to stay with him but wasn't sure if he had enough space. This seems like a good compromise between the two.
Chuck calls Jeff Towne, his Gatherings cohort who kindly arrives to help us move the gear from the Tracey. We load it all out and I drop the keys in the box at reception, smiling pleasantly to our hosts and getting the fuck out of there.
All checked in, and we hit a bar in another part of town. It's quite like an English pub, with locally brewed real ales to match. It also serves great food as Chuck and Jeff will testify, and all the tables are candle-lit which makes for a relaxed time. We stay for a couple of hours before dropping the guys back at the hotel and heading for Chuck's. He'd said his place was worse than the Divine, but he was doing himself a disservice, it's a nice semi on the outskirts of town, a little cluttered for sure, but all music nuts have a similar environment build up around them if given the free reign to do so! I admire his vast LP collection before closer inspection reveals it's only the S-Z section, the remainder rests at his mom's! Chuck also has a cat, which would normally bother me, but not tonight. He has a great fold down bed and I get the best night's sleep I've yet had on the trip.
Day 8 - Thursday November 14th 2002
Sixth Street, Philadelphia
Pretty quickly we come across a guitar shop, Duncan eyes a Fender Six String bass and the rest as they say, is history. Gary tries a couple of planks but there's nothing there that grabs him and won't let go. Duncan gets his bass for $630 which is at least half of what he would pay in the UK, and on top of that it's so rare he's only ever seen one once before, in 1984, although that was a sixties original. This is a reissue, but is still as rare as rocking horse shit. His punishment is to have to lug it around town for the rest of the day but it's a small price to pay.
We hit upon a great record shop (Chuck's Favourite) and I spend considerable time and money picking up some top price releases at £10 or less, "those guys are pretty wild" says Chuck eyeing my choices, many of which border on free jazz terrorism!
In Old City Coffee we eye our purchases and get talking to a guy called Erik who introduces himself when he sees we are musicians. He's keen to show us an Indian Drum Machine he just bought, and he tells how much he loves British Pop, particularly the Stone Roses, and that his band Acme Rock Group are aiming for the big "Resurrection" trip. He's suitably impressed that Duncan spent a lot of time with the Roses in their formative years, I guess we're as exotic to the Americans as their bands undoubtedly are to us.
We spend time on the South Pier overlooking the Delaware, and see a little bit of history including the famous Liberty Bell. As it gets dark we wander into one more record shop with a particularly great jazz selection. We are talking to a really cool bearded black dude at the counter and somehow we end up on English Football and he tells us he was real fan of Leeds when that little ginger guy used to play for us, "Billy Bremner?" I say "Gordon Strachan!" he replies. Amazing.
As evening falls we meet up with Jeff again and we head for Brigid's bar which is a cosy little place with a bar at the front and a restaurant at the back. It's great food and we all have plenty of Belgian beer and the by now inevitable Boddingtons to wash it down. Eventually, they end up playing our CD over the house system for a while, which makes a pleasant change from the bloody Verve.
Once again we drop the boys off at the hotel, and I think we're on our way home having completely forgotten about the gig poster campaign we had planned earlier in the evening. The result is that Chuck, Jeff and I end running round the vast campus of Philadelphia University at 2am putting posters advertising the RMI Gathering up all over the place. I'm convinced I've shed a few pounds today! Bed at 2.30am.
Day 9 - Friday 15th November 2002
Chuck, Gary & Duncan On Broadway, New York
We pass New Jersey and get our first glimpse of the New York skyline from a distance. It's the stuff of dreams. Once again the weather is great, as we enter the south of Manhattan Island passing the legendary Dr Toothy's World Of Dentistry on the way in. We disembark and are sold a ticket for the return journey by some screaming Chinese ladies. We walk up along The Bowery stopping briefly at the legendary CBGB's club, before hitting a deli on 2nd Ave/10th Street where we order a huge breakfast. Gary has a Turkey and Beef sandwich so "deep-filled" he can't eat it all, I mean when was the last time you couldn't finish a sandwich. I am also absolutely stuffed, which is good as we don't actually eat for the rest of the day.
Broadway is the backbone of the island and we basically head straight up it. Duncan has arranged to hook up with someone at MTV on Times Square, and peels off, although Chuck, Gary and I take broadly the same route as him anyway. Gary dips into the shops to buy some much coveted game cards for his boys which will make them the envy of the playground, as they're impossible to get hold of in the UK.
The lesser known Empire State, NYC
World Famous Flat Iron Building, New York
Ground Zero, New York
Ground Zero itself is wire-fenced and the rebuilding program is floodlit and in full swing. Duncan looks beyond the empty space to the buildings immediately behind, and recalls how small they looked from the top of the World Trade Center when he stood at the top of it's 107 floors three years back. Now it's a great empty space and a dreadful reminder of the inhuman horror of that day. I think of Sahra and Katherine, and think of all those people who left their homes never to return on that awful morning. There is a tangible atmosphere, it is a place that needs the love of the world pouring into it.
Times Square, New York
Day 10 - Saturday 16th November 2002
Chuck and I sleep until about 9.30 and gradually get moving, ironically the day of The Gathering will not be as hectic as our days off have been. We pick up a package
containing a soundcard that Duncan has had sent to Chuck's to avoid paying duty on it, from Chuck's neighbour Mike, who draws cartoons for a living. We head into Philly and
Chuck drops me at the hotel. John Garaguso from Progressive Rock Radio is there as arranged to record an interview with us for an RMI special. He sets up his recorder in
Gary's room, and it's a good interview which avoids a lot of the more predictable questions, John's actually read our previously documented views to save going over exactly
the same ground again. Respect to that man.
Tribute To Keith, St Mary's Church, Philadelphia
It's still pouring outside as we slip out to the bar across the road for a swifty, and try and sort out some beers for the long night ahead. There's a great supermarket that actually has a guy to give you your own welcome speech as you enter telling you where everything is. Except that they don't sell drink. We stock up on bananas and water and hurry back through the rain to the church. Chuck is pretty chilled and gives us ten minutes to gather our thoughts, as we wait in the vestry off to the side amongst the robes and hand-bells, two of which I purloin for use onstage (the bells that is, not the robes).
Chuck welcomes the audience to the last Gathering of the year as we wander stagewards. A warm reception and we're off, the conditions are perfect and our show starter 'Wrecks' develops at a very gentle pace, it makes such a difference when you can hear and feel space in the music. Each development happens in a considered and restrained way. The lightshow looks great from within, it's largely devised by Jeff who's trying a couple of new things tonight and appears to have overcome whatever it was that was causing a tremendous burning smell at the soundcheck. My keyboard is positioned to the right of the altar viewed from the pews, and I have a magnificent view of the huge stained glass window behind Gary. It seems a sizeable turnout as the first piece draws to a close and we bask in the warm applause. (I feel totally at home performing, it's a really special buzz that transcends normal time and experience, ever since I was catapulted to fame as 'Scrooge As A Boy' in Westgarth School's 1970 production of 'A Christmas Carol' I've felt the same way about it). Oh to do this for a living.
I announce "A Voyage Into The Unknown" as we embark upon our first improvisation that develops really well into layered sequencing after a very low key but confident start. We then leave the performance area for an interval, I'm body clocking it at 40 minutes, and am amazed to learn that we've actually played for exactly an hour.
We mill about in the vestry, happy with things so far. Chuck is very pleased and Jeff puts his head round the door to tell us that the CDs are virtually flying out of the foyer. A wonderful luxury to have another set to look forward to and no leather trousered Satanists to grin and bear first. The second set starts well with a resounding bass-line in 'A' with large gaps so I can hear it echo around the church space a little. The guitar sounds great, and at some point I know Duncan's gonna strap that new bass on he's been itching to try. I am making use of the small but perfectly formed percussion arsenal, including the ludicrously loud "thing that makes cricket noises", and the hand-bells in 'C' and 'E' exclusive to this performance, being that they of course belong to the good handbell ringers of the parish of University City.
I'm chatting away looking out into the blackness, hoping that people are at least vaguely interested in my burbling, when I decide we'll have a competition to see who's travelled the furthest. There's a guy and his pal from Chicago who have flown here! "That's further than New York isn't it?" I ask in a moment of total stupidity for all the church to hear.
We do our traditional "Doom In E", re-christened "Black Cloud Over Philadelphia", which hovers around the cloisters for a while. I select the Church Organ sample on my keyboard and begin a series of slow semi-tonal descending flattened fifths as Duncan and Gary quieten down and I edge the volume up until it fills the whole church adding clashing discords which make it sound even more like the real thing, I'm grinning a 'life doesn't get any better than this' kind of smile as I end the piece with an E major chord flourish. That's why I love improvising, it never even occurred to me to use the sound, I just found it at the right time amongst the fifty or so I have to choose from.
The set is completed with our liveliest sequencer piece of the night, although having trailed my up and coming wizardry on the Doepfer Sequencer, Duncan is a little nonplussed when I lean over and ask him if he can come up with something on the Notron! It all begins to rock eventually, and Gary and I indulge in a little solo trading, although the best lead sound I can find is trombone which is a bit worrying, still, it does funny things when modulated splitting into two pitches one of which goes up, the other down... it sounds horrible, but funny. We leave the stage to loud clapping and cheering (another standing ovation we're told). We bounce back to play a short encore, as we're running low on time. Appropriately again, we go for a version of 'Rainy Day Song'. I make sure to savour the moment gazing up at the stained glass, and try and step out of the music for a few moments to take in the surrounding darkness and atmosphere as our music reverberates around the stone walls.
After a few smiles and congratulations backstage we emerge to meet a bunch of people eager to say hello, it's great to meet some familiar names who have been with us through many years of correspondence. Charles from Chicago is assured of his chosen prize (a signed copy of the currently unavailable 'Organ Harvest'). There is a charming lady who has no inhibitions in telling us about the deep spiritual communication she felt from our music. These words are very precious to us. She says she feels like "all three of us have been inside of her" to which I hilariously respond "that can't be bad", but we both know what she means and such sincerity is to be treasured. (Thanks to you and if you see this please write and say hi! It'd be interesting to see how you got on with the experiments you were planning in using our music for pain relief). There's Jim Nahill, Vince Le Grand, John Garaguso, Sergey a Russian student and a guy who actually saw us at Progwest in California too!
'God Bless America', St Mary's Church, Philadelphia
Ah, but the night is young! We're off to Radio WXPN which is luckily very close indeed. It's in a large old house and up a few flights of stairs, but the wonder of our `small mobile and intelligent' set up pays off yet again and we are fully installed in the studio without too much trouble, which is easy for me to say as it's Duncan who has to do it all. We set up in a studio where we can see Chuck through the control room glass, Jeff is on hand to sort out our studio monitors. It's about half past one by the time we're set up, so it looks like we're starting at two after all, as Chuck notes wryly. There's no getting to bed early tonight!
We've scored some beer and Jeff has got pizza, and we're in our bloody element again. I'm sitting on the floor, shoes off and ready to go. Chuck has a great radio voice and listeners in this area are really lucky to be able to drift off to this on a Saturday night. Not so lucky however if they're trying to drift off to RMI as we are in rocking mode for a significant amount of our limitless time (We are given total freedom to play for as long as we want, which is an incredible opportunity) we start very quietly, in fact it's me solo for about the first ten minutes just grooving on a slow chord sequence, but Duncan brings in some killer sequencer lines on the Notron that will set toes-a-tapping under duvets all across Philly and beyond, and you never know, may well inspire other forms of rhythmic bedtime activity (ooer). Anyway, they'll sleep when we do and not before.
Playing on such a grand time scale all of the pressures disappear although we are conscious to keep the piece in a constant state of development. We hit our peaks and troughs and Chuck cuts in at the top of the hours, and the piece ends up at 2 hours and 20 minutes in total. Chuck's asleep for a good twenty minutes before his 4 o'clock announcement and almost persuades us to continue until 5, but we decide to draw it to a close at 4.20, as exhaustion sets in again. It's been a marvellous life-affirming night though.
Jeff makes two trips with us to the hotel, and we're safely re-united by about 6am. Of course, we then decide to listen to some of the recordings and before we know it, we could be having breakfast. I get to bed at 7am.
Days 11/12 - Sunday 17th / Monday 18th November 2002
We're on the plane home just over the West Coast of Ireland as I write this, having had three and a half hours' sleep last night, waking up at 10.30am to pack and check out. I accepted the horrors of today like a man, although Duncan was wiser and simply asked for an extension on his check out time. Shit, why didn't I think of that? We ate in the hotel, it was too late to hook up for last goodbyes with Chuck and Jeff, but we're sure they'll understand. There was a ball game on in the bar, and one guy with a voice that could cut glass kept saying things like "That guy in the number five joisey" in a wild American drawl, "he can't even walk!" It became our catchphrase for the rest of the day. We spent an hour in the lobby before our shuttle bus arrived to take us to New York's JFK airport. Again we booked the bus to ourselves, it's not a journey we are relishing.
Our departure time from JFK is 2110, and we arrive in good time three hours before, which is a good thing as there are some criminally stupid orthodox Jews who have let their kids bring boxes of toys and god knows what, so the whole of the rest of the check-in queue has to wait for this walking jumble sale to sort itself out. The woman at check-in is also a dumb broad "Oh I hate outsized baggage" Yes, well it's your fucking job! Although her ineptitude also means that we escape any excess weight charges, which is a result. The service at Heathrow is miles better than this. We then wait in the longest line known to man to check in our hand baggage but at least it's snaking across JFK with some degree of purpose.
The plane journey's actually quite short and we arrive at 0830 (having gained three hours) into the cold, foggy 1 degree temperature of Heathrow airport. Sleep on the plane has remained an elusive concept, and we go our separate ways putting Duncan in a cab with all the gear. After skulking around King's Cross trying and failing to alert Virgin to the concept of getting me on an earlier departure, I eventually hit Leeds at 1540 by which time I've been up for another 24 hours. Rock and Roll!
Do Electric Sheep Dream Of Space Rock?