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Travels with an Oxonian, a hot date, murders & more..

Here’s the next installment of the ‘travelogue’ folks..

Good time in London. Got connected online for a bit at inSpiral Lounge, a cool veggie eatery and hangout on the Camden Locks, beside the famous long-running Camden market. Walked around a bit and met Philippa for dinner and catching up. Bumped into Boy George’s band, too, getting out of taxis and rushing into Jazz Cafe, where they played. We caught a show at inSpiral that evening, songwriters-in-the-round featuring Alex Berger, who writes great songs. His piano ballads made me think of Randy Newman. He had me up for a few songs as well. Next morning rushed to Victoria Station and caught an all-day bus to Newcastle. Pretty out of it for most of the ride, but managed to watch the scenery and read a bit from Travels with a Tangerine, which I slowly worked my way through the past few weeks. It’s a good read with some admirable adventures and travels, although the author, Oxford-educated Tim Mackintosh-Smith, flashes some high language which is way beyond a lay person’s capacity. It’s over the top, actually.

Got to Newcastle and enjoyed a nice night at Jumpin Hot Club, opening for Manitoba’s Cam Penner and his brilliant guitar/lap steel player Jon Wood. Saw some familiar faces- folks who were at my last Newcastle show in late summer 2009. The series is run by Graham Anderson, who’s a good guy and big roots music supporter. Nice to see him and Sid, another music lover and supporter who came to the last show. He has one of the hardest accents to understand. Thick Jordie Newcastle accent. Got some take-out Chinese (food) and hung out with Cam and John late night at the hotel talking shop about music.

Next show was in Belper, near Nottingham in Derbyshire. Beautiful area. Drove in with Cam and John and stopped off for a pint at a local pub. Were told we were staying with Dick, who was a character they’d spoken about on the drive. When we got to Dick’s I asked about a chip shop to find some fish and chips, since I’d somehow managed to spend three days in England without eating any yet. He gave his ten year old daughter Tia some change and told her to bring me to George’s. Busy spot, great fish and chips. Tia warned me as we started our little date “I should let you know I talk a lot.” And she launched into a number of topics, including school, Wii, and a Super Mario Bros. game with cheating codes which allows her to change into Luigi whenever she wants. Heard a good bit of detail on that. At the chip shop she saw a teacher at school and tried to hide, whispering “Oh no. I don’t want to see her. She’s a teacher at school,” as if the lady were covered with maggots. Full blown accent. Back at Dick’s we watched the end of a rugby match and hung out in the large backyard patio where Dick’s sons and a ton of friends were having a bbq, the grille sitting on the table. The house swarmed at all times with people, mainly teenagers and young ones. They get free reign over there in language and action. Good bit more open than most family homes I’ve typically seen. Pretty empowering for the kids, perhaps. Had a good time at the venue and show, playing in an intimate space with fine ambiance. Listening crowd which enjoyed the show, and I met some folks and hung out. John Wood joined me on lap steel and guitar for a few songs. Fantastic player, sparse and precise with feeling. Back at Dick’s place we ravaged on English muffins, bread, and made weird sandwiches with stuff lying around- cheese, some sort of pickle spread, hot sauce. Serious eating session, and other friends from town were there. Then the kids came back smashed and the party got rowdy. All the while Tia was sleeping upstairs. As the night died down Cam, John, Dick and I sat chatting about a number of interesting things- the need for more community co-ops, English farming (cheese & bread are imported), economics, etc.

This morning Dick cooked a fine breakfast of eggs with tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast, and the day got going. The boys had been out until 8am, but were moving around by 10 o’clock. I asked Aaron, Dick’s son who just returned the day before from Germany, where he recorded a hip hop record, and who’s off to Australia to be a cowboy tomorrow, how he was already awake and active, and he said “You can’t miss the day. It’s awful to miss the day!”. Scanned a bit of Norman Lewis’ The World The World (Dick had recommended him) and soon after parted with Cam and John and headed to the bus station. Gorgeous scenery driving the Peak District with its old millworks (many converted into shops), Matlock Bath, a lovely town that had five or six fish and chips shops on the main drag alone, bikers were out in full force and others walking around town, going into the chocolate shops, eating out on patios overlooking the river, lounging, and enjoying the beautiful day. Passed the Derbyshire Dales on the river and drove across from rocky cliffs and a view point above called the Heights of Abraham. Old, short rock walls separated land plots with light and lush dark green grasses and grazing cows and sheep into different sizes and shapes on the hills on either side. As we crested a hill dark clouds suddenly loomed low above and the rain tore down. First rain on the whole tour I’ve seen. As it stopped a tremendous rainbow arched itself above the distant hills. Made it to Manchester and with some help from folks on the bus, got to The Cheshire Ring for the gig. Put my bags down and enjoyed the rare tour experience of walking unburdened, no guitar, duffel bag, or rolling bag, heading into the center of Hyde past a closed market. Got some Indian take-out and stopped off at the town hall to check out a statue on the Chartists. Apparently Hyde played an important role in the social movement for labor rights in England, circa 1838- 1848. Over the rest of the century and into the early 20th century labor improved in baby steps following the Hyde Charters. First the number of hours children could work was limited to twelve, then the work age was raised, etc., culminating, it seems, in minimum age of fourteen years to work. Turns out Hyde is also known as the murder capital of the world. A friendly local doctor killed 200- 300 patients over the years. Everyone seems to have known a few of the murdered. Even the doctor was said to be nice if a bit old-fashioned. The case came to trial only a few years ago, roughly, and the doctor hanged himself. Heard from Graham, banjo player from Mr. Biggles War Time Band, who also runs the show, that a body was found a few doors down from his place. Also, a couple who lived just outside of town murdered children forty or fifty years ago, and buried them in the moors. All in all a great visit, though- met some nice folks and it’s a good series in a great room. Definitely hope to make it back again.

Had an interesting return visit to London. Didn’t get to sleep that night until after seven in the morning, but a fun time at the show. Skipping to Monday, did some ‘business’ online in the late morning and made my way to London Victoria for the mid-afternoon bus to Swindon. Was hoping to do a few things- go back to my favorite fish and chips place near Covent Garden, walk to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament, and also walk along the south bank of the Thames to the Globe Theatre. Timing and the weight of my bags won out, and I didn’t make it to any of those spots, unfortunately. Really liked the time in Swindon. Loved the Arts Centre- great room and excellent sound run by a cool chap name Alan. Fun night- met some neat folks and enjoyed meeting up with Larkin Poe again and opening the show. Managed to get a room at a local ‘hostel’ (w/ excellent British breakfast of eggs, bread and toast, and tea), a shave, fish & chips, sound check, and some hangin backstage before the show. Worked on a song for a while backstage and caught the last few songs of Larkin Poe, which were terrific. With all the running around on the tour, getting to the next town and making my way to the venue, hanging out and chatting, etc., I didn’t make much time to actually sit and play and work on new material. So it was always nice to step out of things for as long as possible and think about the scraps of new songs I’m working with.