fish'n'chips, the cords that tie us to modern life, meet me in montana

We’re driving up to Cambridge and London for a few days of free time before the tour picks up steam again. The end is finally in sight – it’s been a long year of many many miles and many stages and though it’s been fun, I’m beginning to get the shakes just thinking about sleeping in my own bed.

After wrapping up the US tour, we flew over to Italy and had a few days to gather our wits (and gear) about us before we headed up to England for this tour. We drove in our own car because it was cheaper than flying and honestly, we had far too much gear to fly – we’re out on the road for a month, and between clothes and CDs and guitars and cables and everything else, we would have been laughed out of the airport if we’d decided to go that route. So we drove.

While we were packing, we began to realize exactly how much STUFF we have to (choose to) bring on tour…between ipods and the GPS and blackberries and regular phones and scotch tape and duct tape and masking tape and different adaptors for every cell and computer charger… to think it used to be a guitar and a microphone….

box full of maps and books

box full of cords and electronics

food box!

success! the best part is that i don't remember how i did it... so i can keep playing!

Anyhow, we decided to pass through Paris on our way to Calais – I have an old friend living there and we needed a good place to break up the drive. Google Maps had suggested that we pass through Germany but we paid no heed…and paid dearly for it. I think the suggestion arises largely from the fact that the roads in Germany are free… and the roads in France aren’t. From Manuel’s house to the Italian border, we paid 45 euro in Italian tolls; we then paid 35 euro simply to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel. By the time we got to Calais to catch our ferry, we’d paid another 60 euro in tolls to cross France. On top of that, we made a very distressing discovery the first time we filled our tank in France.

Manuel’s car is dual-fuel powered; it runs on regular gasoline/petrol and on LPG – liquid petroleum gas, which is significantly cheaper than gasoline (about 55p per liter instead of 1.05 per liter). Apparently every country in Europe uses a different nozzle for pumping LPG and you have to have an adaptor for each one. This was a total shock to us; electrical outlets, yes. Monetary units, okay. Driving on different sides of the road, no problem. But adapters for putting fuel in your car?? Really?? Needless to say we were in a bit of a panic at that point, having just spent 80 euro on tolls in the span of 10 minutes and knowing that we had all of France to cross…and knowing that now we’d be paying 1.40 euro instead of .60 euro per liter. Panic set in.

But at the same time – what could we do? Neither of us speaks French. So we filled the car and drove on in the pouring rain, desperate to get to Paris and friendly faces. We arrived at long last, nearly 14 hours after we left Castiglion, and had our first real stroke of good luck all day – a parking spot directly outside of their apartment! Zoe and Pascal welcomed us into their lovely little flat, located in the Sacre Coeur district of the city. After a late dinner we climbed up to the cathedral, as much to stretch our legs as to see the church.

The next morning we hurried out the door to get to Calais, where we were to catch our ferry to Dover. We got there with plenty of time to spare, but we were held up at the border crossing while they investigated my work papers. Computers were down and it took forever, so we missed our ferry, but luckily there was another in just half an hour so we were able to catch that one. I was excited by the crossing in a very childlike way – it had been forever since I’d been on a boat (strange, as my friend Marybeth pointed out, since most of the songs on our new record are nautical in theme). We threw our budget to the wind, said to hell with our sandwiches in the car, and ordered two big plates of fish and chips and ate by the window, watching the cliffs of Dover come into view.

"coffee" and "soup" from a machine...

Our first show was that same night, at a lovely little pub called The Beehive in the town of Swindon. The audience was warm and friendly, and it was a nice, gentle way to start the tour – no high-pressure theatre stage, no stressful drunken crowd to sing over. Just really kind people in a lovely atmosphere.

Getting ready for bed that night, I encountered my old nemesis – the English faucet. Can someone please explain this to me? Why on earth is there a tap for the hot water (always very very hot) and a separate tap for the cold (always very very cold)? There is no way to wash your face without burning the everlovin’ skin off your hands and face. I usually cup my hands under the cold water, fill them a third of the way, then add the boiling hot water to the mix and achieve something reasonable…but goodness, it’s a lot of work.

The next morning we woke and drove to get our LPG adaptor – for a mere 35 pounds. Gaaaaaahhhh. We had found it online for 5 euro but couldn’t figure out the logistics of ordering and shipping it. In any case, we finally filled up the car (for 20 pounds instead of 45, which was nice) and headed to Bedford. We made a quick detour in Oxford, where we had lunch with my friend Sarah, who got her masters there. Just walking around the buildings and the library made me itch to be back in school. The rain had abated, if only briefly, we had a really pleasant couple of hours there.

the market in Oxford

Our show that night was at Harpur in Bedford was organized by Jez Brown, who puts on the Bedford Live shows. It was great fun – the venue was lovely, the food was stellar, and we really enjoyed ourselves. A local band called Tinker Jack opened for us and they were fantastic – very talented folks.

The next morning we took a detour to Cambridge to see our friend Franco, a guy from Manuel’s hometown who is waiting tables in Cambridge. The world is so tiny – he has been working for two years at the venue where I played in Cambridge in August 2007. We went there for lunch and when we pulled up I just busted out laughing – I couldn’t believe it was the same one. We had an awesome three hour lunch – the place is run by a guy from Castiglion Fiorentino, actually, so we had a typical lunch of antipasti, cheeses, olives, salami, bread, followed by pasta and all accompanied by lots of red wine… it was a miracle that we were able to stop eating long enough to get in the car and head to our show in Bristol.

Our show in Bristol was nice as well – we played a venue called The Prom, and we played on Guy Fawkes Day, so I was a bit worried. GF Day is Fireworks Day in the UK and I was expected a pub full of loud and drunken revelry, but instead we had a nearly listening room environment and even sold a good number of CDs. A nice surprise.

The next day we slept in, took a walk across the Clifton Bridge (an early Victorian engineering wonder – one of the world’s first suspension bridges, hanging gracefully over the Avon Gorge), and had a quick lunch at Pieminster (absolutely fantastic pies…. Free-range meat, everything locally sourced, hand-made pastry crust… just delicious). We then headed back east to East Grinstead, south of London. If you’ve been following on the map, you’ll see that we’ve crossed the country at least four times by now – Dover to Swindon to Bedford to Cambridge to Bristol to EG….only to head back west the next day (and today we’re headed east again…good thing the distances here are so much more manageable).

Clifton Bridge in Bristol

Our venue in EG was another little gem called Grub Café. One of our fans, Terry, helped get us booked here, and he and his lovely wife Vicki put us up for the night at their cozy little house in Seven Oaks. One of my favorite things about England so far, dueling faucets aside, is the trend towards local everything. Every café we’ve eaten at has locally-sourced produce, meat, grain…everything is fresh and handmade and there’s a real attention to the taste of the food. The dinner we had at Grub was simple – chicken breast for me, a burger for Manuel – but it was outstanding. The owner, Steven, is really passionate about good food and good music, and I hope they continue providing a home for both for a long time to come.

That night, as we drove to Terry and Vicki’s house, we were searching in vain for a radio station. Something is weird with our radio (another European stumbling block?) and we can’t seem to pick up any British stations – maybe one or two on the whole dial. We managed to get a BBC radio station tuned in (with a great deal of static) and we listened to the program for a while. They were trying to get people to call in songs with all 50 state names. We caught the number so I called in for the heck of it – I had already though of songs for Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, New York, and Montana by the time someone finally picked up. We ended up being patched through to the DJ, who had me sing part of my song (I suggested “Meet Me in Montana” by Dan Seals) and it was pretty hilarious, because I sang it rather terribly (I wasn’t expecting to perform via cell phone that evening) and then the DJ asked me what I was doing in the UK, if I was on holiday, etc., and I had to admit that I was a musician on tour, which was pretty hilarious after my less-than-convincing debut on his program. But he got my name and wished us the best of luck on the tour and we got some free publicity out of a random late-night trivia phone call.

The next morning we had to get up very early and drive to Southampton – we were scheduled to play on the “Sally on Saturday” program on BBC Radio Solent, hosted by local TV and radio celebrity Sally Taylor. It was great fun – we played for a small studio audience, and Sally was super kind, as was Geoff, the producer of the program who had arranged for us to perform at the last minute. At some point I ended up telling the story of the previous night’s radio call-in, and I mentioned that I had no idea which radio program it was. Some listeners called into the studio to tell us we’d been on Paul Miller’s program on the very same BBC station – so the engineers were even able to copy the program from the archives for us, and now I have a CD of myself singing “Meet Me in Montana,” badly, on national radio. :)

From Southampton we headed across the southern coast of England, stopping for another round of fish and chips (natch) for lunch, as well as some locally produced Dorset ice cream (delish). We were lucky to be treated to a really gorgeous day, full sunshine, and thank goodness, because the Dorset and Devon countryside is some of the prettiest I’ve seen anywhere in the world. So green it seems impossible, the pastures full of sheep and cattle (no corn-fed cows here), manor homes that probably belonged to the Duke of Wessex himself, steep hills and sweeping valleys that lead out to steep Jurassic and Triassic cliffs that plunge down the cold waters of the English Channel below. Absolutely incredible.

English countryside

After winding through numerous country back lanes, we arrived at the home of Bob and Claire, our English booking agents and all-around marvelous people. We chatted with them about the previous nights’ gigs and then got ready for the night’s show at The Windjammer in Dartmouth. Another night of good food and good people, and then we both fell asleep in the car on the way home, so grateful to have someone else driving for a change.

We slept very late the next morning and then Bob & Claire took us on a walk along the cliffs near their home. There’s a lovely public footpath above the town of Sidmouth that apparently covers the entire coast of England, and we walked a bit of it and met some friendly cows along the way. It was bitterly cold and windy out, but there was a fragile, buttery sunshine that took the edge off a bit, and I must say that it was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen – and this in November. I can only imagine in spring or summer.

The English cow that I befriended

On a walk with Bob & Claire

After our cliffside walk, we went down into the town of Sidmouth for a pint of English ale and then headed back to Bob & Claire’s home to get ready for the night’s show. Our venue this time was in the seaside town of Lyme Regis (famous as being the setting for the French Lieutenant’s Woman) and we played the gorgeous Marine Theatre. Sadly the crowd was rather small (everywhere, there’s talk of the crisis) but they were absolutely wonderful and warm (in Italian they say “pochi ma buoni” – few but good). We sold a lot of CDs and really enjoyed talking to everyone after the show.

This morning we wanted to get up early and drive to Cambridge but it was foggy and cold out so we all slept in a bit and had a long breakfast with Bob & Claire before heading out. They used to run a place called Otterton Mill, which was a bakery/restaurant/music venue (my dream job) until they just couldn’t do it any longer – it just wore them out. Apparently it was a magical place – every single thing sourced locally – it was an old water mill, so they even ground their own spelt flour with grain from a farmer in nearby Lyme Regis – and live music every week of the year, every single show a sellout. They believe passionately in music and local food and are just wonderful people. We’ve already had many a conversation with them about the state of the world, and we all end up kind of vaguely depressed at the end of the conversation – but their dry British humor lightens the mood just in time.

It IS a state we’re in though. All the wildlife that’s disappearing, all of the people who are spend, spend, spending on things that will just be thrown away instead of investing in the world and its citizens, how we’re all made of 80% corn thanks to sodas and twinkies and hamburgers from corn-fed cattle, how the whole thing is so overwhelming that most people just want to sweep the disaster under the rug and go on with their earbuds in their ear and pop-candy playing on their iPods….it’s exhausting if you start to think about it. I, for one, have been thinking about it more and more in the last few years, and it’s very probable that these will be my last tours for a while. I can no longer justify the traveling (I shudder to think of the damage we’ve done with our flights and fast food and miles and miles of driving) and I really feel like we all need to get our hands dirty and pitch in and DO something before it’s too late. It may not be the apocalypse, but the world is changing, and we need to make sure it’s changing for the better. I am not sure what 2010 will bring us, but I hope to say that I’m somewhere making a difference. I do believe that music makes a difference, but I also believe that something a bit less abstract is needed, and though I’m just one person … each of us is just one person, and as a group of ones, we have gotten into this mess... and I do believe (I have to believe) that as a group of ones, we can get ourselves out. I certainly hope so.

Off to bed.... rest is needed around these parts. :)
Sweet dreams to you all.

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