We woke up in our little cozy digs behind the Downshire Arms at Hilltown’s only crossroads, lined by 4 pubs, a SPAR store, and a few other small town shops. Ah. The smell of breakfast being prepared downstairs. Eggs, scones, hearty brown bread, tea and cheese and milk. Our hotel was much more like a little house, two stories with the bedrooms and bath up stairs and kitchen and living room below. Quite a nice little arrangement. Paul and Vicky were at work in the kitchen. A day ahead and comfortable in Ireland from their many trips over, they warmly cared for the other travel-bedeviled hawks. It felt as if we were visiting their home in Ireland rather that hanging in a hotel. Breakfast was crucial for a busy day lie ahead.
And then something shocking happened. A knock at the door and what do you know: guitars and one bag. PM was the lucky bag winner–both his bass and bag arrived. RW and SN will still be washing their drawers in the sink or squeezing uncomfortably into the donated undies of a luggaged band mate. Quick showers follow the reunion ceremony and we’re off in the van to Belfast with our very own gear.
PL takes the wheel yet again and follows Andy Peter’s detailed directions along scenic back roads to the big city of Belfast. Pastoral scenery punctuated by harrowing near misses with buses or the curb, as Paul L over corrects to the left, trying to overcome 30 years of driving reflexes. A rural side of a house is painted with an image of Che Guevara and one of the IRA who died in a prison hunger strike. What will Belfast be like? Images of bomb blasts and funeral marches come to mind. But the days of the Troubles have passed. As we enter the city all seems comfortable, safe, and prosperous. Green trimmed hedges line neatly trimmed lawns and carefully cared for homes. Red brick historical buildings are flanked by modern cool gray concrete, generous glass and tasty steel. These same people were blowing each other up? It seems inconceivable.
We head first to UTV, a television and radio studio in the center of town. We meet up with classic rock DJ and on-air host, George Jones (unrelated). George is a real character. He’s been in the rock music game since it began and it’s not likely you’ll forget it. Mr. Jones was in Van Morrison’s first bands in the late 50’s. He played gigs in Hamburg with the Beatles in 1962. He bought the first Felder P-Bass in Belfast when they took it off the boat in ’59. He’s done everything with everybody all the way down the line. Now he’s got the Hawks. The interview is fast and professional. George sets up the mics at hyperspeed, gets a damned good sound. We say the band name, the website, explain the band name, play a song, George does the traffic, answers a couple emails on the air and then we’re out of there. Whoa. Back in the van, south a few Belfast blocks to the club, drop off the gear and meet Andy, eat. It’s traditional fare all around. Fish and Chips, Guinnesses, fish pie, more chips, mush peas and champ. It’s delicious. A local favorite, mysterious and rich Banoffee Pie. No time to savor it, though, and we’re off to the BBC. Entering BBC Northern Ireland offers the first architectural glimpse back to the days of the Troubles. The place is built like a fortress with big cement baffles and narrow passageways out front, high security doors and guards. Ultra modern turnstiles dazzle you with artful state of art glass doors, and the firm knowledge that you are being CCTV watched is made soft, even exotic and flattering. We pass into the inner sanctum, walls filled with huge plasma screens with lush imagery of BBC’s best. We are in a fortress outpost of the British Empire.
But we have little stake in the ancient argument and just want to play our special brand of California country rock for as many folks as possible. We make our way beyond the garrison up elevators to the studio of Ralph McClean, a fine roots dj who’s been playing us for years. It’s great to meet him. As we set up in the studio a strange thing happens. PM goes to plug in his bass amp and all cry of alarm goes out from the engineer, “Stop! Don’t plug that in! You could get electrocuted!” What? Musicians are not allowed to plug in their own amps here. An electrician is quickly summoned. He arrives with gauges and monitors. Is this some kind of government joke? Have we stumbled into a Monty Python episode? The staff electrician in jumpsuit checks the outlet, checks the amp, gives the all clear and plugs it in. This is strange. PM’s amp is just a regular old UK amp. OK, we’ll let professionals do their job. The performance section of the show is taped and then PL and RW sit for the interview. Ralph is even faster and more on top of his interview game than George Jones. He introduces the songs, feeds smart and informed and hip questions to us, takes breaks in one fast turn, all to be cut together later after we’ve gone. British broadcasting at its best.
Back in the van and across town to the Real Music Club upstairs at the Errigle Inn. This place has been a public house for a long time. You can’t smoke in pubs in the UK anymore (just like California) but the walls release an ancient smoky odor that hints at decades of potent hand rolled tobacco. We set up and sound check as the place begins to fill up. There’s a good crowd eagerly awaiting as we hit the stage. We play two sets and the crowd which seems respectful and restrained at first grows increasingly rowdy and elated. It’s a great show and our fine Ireland welcome continues to thrill us. We load up and follow Andy on darkened narrow lanes southward to Hilltown. Long long drive, considering it’s only about 60 miles. Yes, we are weary. Our bodies aren’t on California time, nor are they on Irish time.