It’s Tuesday, July 10th. We’ve been away just under two weeks but due to the relentless schedule of this tour we’ve had not a moment to chronicle our journey. Dear Reader, we apologize. We’ll try to catch up. At the moment, we’re speeding towards Bristol on the M6. We have a radio show at 3 pm at the BBC. Will we make it? Torrential rains are in the forecast once again. When we ask natives how long the drive is between Liverpool and Bristol we get answers varying from 2 to 7 hours. Google (like Obama), takes the middle road and says three and a half hours. We shall see.
Last night we played a house concert in the lovely two story brick row house of Peter and Gabrielle Davies, aka The Good Intentions. They won Best Americana act at the British Country Music Awards this year, and we’re excited about finally getting to play with them. The GIs live just down the street from Paul McCartney’s boyhood home. After a terrific dinner of fish risotto by Gabi, wow, did we need that!, with Peter leading we walked the half mile through quiet two story flats and trees to the quaint Council House of this McCartney musical mountain. Quite a feeling to be there. A tour guide guides two tourists in front of the building. Liverpool does feel Beatlesque, leafy neighborhoods and roundabouts. We’re not going to get a chance to see the port and its historic docks.
We walked back to the Davies house properly humbled. Evening. The audience, music aficionados and good friends all, filtered in to drink and mingle. The Good Intentions did a short but sweet acoustic duo set, no microphones in this most excellent small living room concert room. We did the same, just acoustic guitars, bass in small amp, Victoria with broomsticks on a CD box. We got a great balance, did our best acoustic show of the tour so far. The audience got very enthusiastic, their polite British nature giving way to genuine joy. It’s a good feeling. We did a short first set and took a break, the room grown hot and faces glistening. We stepped out into the damp and cool Liverpool night. Back inside for one more set, the sets they just keep coming on this tour. But it was a good one. We chatted for a long time with our new friends and fans. These people know music. We hung with the Davies, drinking whiskey on the couches, their very cool children and friends hanging too. A delightful and civilized evening.
Ah, but now it’s raining, we’ve missed our motorway exit, of course, and Rob is using precious roaming iPhone minutes to get nervous driver Paul back on course. We’ve gone 20 minutes eastward from Liverpool, so we backtrack, finally head southward, Bristol bound. The drive turns enchanting, even on the brisk motorway, dark rain and brilliant sunlight alternating in great waves over the fields and towns racing past.
We make Bristol with an hour to spare, cruise the high (main) street, note the ornamental patterns set into otherwise pragmatic brick row houses. Bristol was clearly a prosperous big town for a long time. We will learn from various chats with locals that this was the center of the slave trade triangle: trinkets and goods to Africa in the big wooden ships, slaves from Africa to America, cotton from America back to Bristol. Nasty and efficient. Bristol 2012 looks tidy, upbeat, and prosperous, with mysterious means of income, like most of western civilization.
BBC Bristol is a model of BBC effiency, genteel officiousness, and intelligence. We maneuver through the security checkpoints, are guided by a nervous greeter to the coffee lounge, and then play a live acoustic set with a super cool, smart, and informed DJ Alex. She’s listened to our material, has great questions, has fun. We’re getting good use out of the CD box, Victoria’s second show in a row on the percussion instrument. Thank you, BBC. Long may you rule, and may American radio follow your example, especially the interest in Americana bands from America.
With our car safely in the high security zone of BBC parking, we wander up the high street, check out the cool Silverlake period of gentrification shops. Cool hang with wi fi at a cafe, Rob chats with the family, whom he misses palpably at this point. Rob and Victoria hit the high end organic cosmetics shop, Marc and Paul amble downhill and fetch the car, we’re off to the St. Bonaventure Social Club up a few grades and through roundabouts eastward. What a beautiful town, all graceful old flats and generous parks, big old trees. The brooding clouds are our constant companion. A nurturing climate. The crew at St. Bonaventure’s are super cool, efficient, have great gear and drum kit for us, including a 1970s Fender Twin Reverb that sounds great, overcoming Paul’s historic aversion to Twins and their sinister cousins, the Mesa Boogie family. We do a full rocking sound check, take a long downhill walk to the street of shops, grab dinner, and walk back up.
St. Bonaventure’s is indeed a multipurpose community center room somehow connected to another deconsecrated church, with an impressive calendar of touring country, roots, and folk bands. Alejandro Escovedo, whose UK paths we are crossing several times, is here a few nights later. The seats in the big concert room are almost full, to our delight, and we do a set that builds to our closing rockers. It’s been interesting building sets with this first time ever lineup, with a batch of mellow songs from our new CD that we’re translating into acoustic and electric shows. We’ve got it down by now, and the crowd digs our thumping conclusion. The Fender Twin has tired tubes, gets quieter and quieter, Paul turns it up and up, and by our last “Good And Foolish Times” encore it sounds like a transistor amp through a fuzz pedal. Nobody but Paul and Marc seem to notice, and we exit the stage feeling loved and appreciated. We do the hang, sign CDs, and our kind hosts for the evening,
Tony and Guilly Jones, lead us in caravan through dark Bristol and down a six mile winding dark country lane to their B&B in the village of Pensford. We have a drink, a nice chat, and to bed in comfy rooms upstairs.
Morning reveals we are in a stunning 19th century bakery turned sprawling B&B. Guilly makes us a fine breakfast, and we loiter long in the terraced yard that sprawls steeply down to the black and fast flowing Chew River, with fields beyond. Guilly takes us on a dreamlike walk through the old village with ancient carving in church wall and domed single room stone gaol, and out of town along the beautiful Chew sheltered by elms and other big trees. We walk the path under a massive Victorian arched railway bridge, into the hedges and fields with cattle and lonely wealthy farmer’s stone houses. The air is balmy and soft blue, barley bends with the breeze, cattle and sheep graze, and we wander in a big loop and back into town.
A fond farewell to Guilly and we’re off for Towersey, 50 miles northwest of London. On the map it looks like a piece of cake, so we take small roads out of Pensford, avoiding Bristol, and our wandering is rewarded with stunning vistas of Somerset farmland, unspoiled, timeless, and bursting with life from the very heavy spring and summer rains. We stop at a roadside pub for fish and chips and local strong beer, drive off well lubricated and mellow, veer somehow into the ancient town of Bath, drive narrow old streets become canyons by a burst of 18th century Palladium style building by architects John Wood The Elder And Son. The yellowish Bathstone (a local limestone) buildings form massive and long planned boulevards and circuses that resemble Paris in boldness and farsightedness. Dazzled, we meander the streets until a lane spills us out onto a roundabout that takes us to the M4 eastward.
Now we’re running late, in classic Hawks style. Eastward, then north through the outskirts of Oxford, under beautiful blackening and lightening skies and bursts of rain, then eastward, we’re lost, we’re found, we’re lost, down a series of flat farm lanes, and sometime after sunset we reach the venerable Three Horseshoes Tavern in ancient village Towersey, east Oxfordshire, official home of the Towersey Morris Men
As the guidebook says: “Towersey is a small rural parish just inside the East Oxfordshire border. The origins of its name can be found back as far as the Saxon times. The village can be found in the Doomsday Book under it’s original name of Eye. The name Towersey is actually derived from Richard de Tours. The Tours family were owners of the land and area. Therefore, they became know as the Tours of Eye which led to usages such as Toureye, Towerseye and finally Towersey.” By the 14th century the Abbot of the Church of Thame had taken the land.
In that same century, the 14th, yes, the 1300s, young Americans, the barn in which we are to perform was built. Sturdy and whitewashed, the barn has what look like and locals agree are arrow shooting slits. As we pull into the rain soaked parking lot our anxious host Mark Wallace greets us. We’re pretty late, but we do a quick but efficient sound check, two big condensor mics and an upright bass, yeah!, have time to grab a pint at the Three Horseshoes across the yard. The doorway is low, the ceilings almost too low for Rob to stand upright, the floor is ancient planks. We’re drenched in history.
Back to the barn, and it sounds good. We’ve got a medium sized enthusiastic crowd, and we do two sets and an encore, as rain falls outside. Martin and his wife Georgia, very cool folks, lead us back to their row house in the village of Princes Risborough. We take to our rooms and crash. It’s been a long day.
Next morning Martin suggests we walk the mile into town center, which we do, have a cheery English breakfast, heavy on the sausage, in a corner shop, then wander the farmers market. We buy cheeses from a bewhiskered gray gentleman in tweed who rolls a cigarette with tobacco from a tin emblazoned with a marijuana leaf, who fills us in on local lore. A french woman presides over a cart with phenomenal olives and pickled vegetables, and another cart is overflowing with enticing plump bread loaves of a variety we can only wish on Whole Foods. We buy wander, just miss a boys choir in an ancient chapel in ancient cemetery. As we walk out of town center, two gawky raptors fly overhead, circle. Are those kites? The fabled birds we looked for in vain in the hills over Wellinghan, County Down? Yes, they are! They seem to follow us, and back at Martin and Georgia’s house they circle overhead. It looks like their nesting tree is at the edge of our hosts’ long and productive vegetable row garden.
We hit the road, iGuide Rob calling out directions, north for Leicester through Aylesbury, Bicester, Bloxham, Banbury, Byfield, Graydon, just missing Stratford-upon-Avon, past Coventry, Bedworth, Nuneaton, Wigston, roundabouts and hedges, some new suburbs but nothing alarming, into Leicester. A functional town.
It’s raining. We’re hungry. We park, load in and do a quick sound check at The Musician, at the end of a factory road. All is gray except for the bright yellow Musician entrance. The soundman is excellent, cheery, and we cheer up, it sounds great, we’re going acoustic again. Victoria almost slices her finger off with an ancient and cruel drum stool, but it’s only a flesh wound, and Victoria toughs it out. We find the street
with food, grab mediocre Indian fare, come back, and to our pleasant surprise, we’ve got a reasonable sized audience again. And we put on a great show, in Paul’s humble opinion the best of the tour. The grooves groove, the vocals are dialed in from the previous nineteen shows and the monitors are great, Rob’s sounding gigantic, Victoria’s a train beat metronome, we rock. The crowd goes quietly wild, we do a long encore, hang out and sign CDs. A night we were concerned about couldn’t have turned out better.
A friend of the club, Tony, has cheap rooms for us in his row house a few miles from town. We hang out with the other roomers and some musician buddies who turn out to have a great sounding folk band, watch a bit of Orson Welles’s “Touch Of Evil.” In the middle of the famous opening shot, Marc observes, isn’t that Venice Beach? By jove, it’s got to be. Suddenly the Mexican border town is good old L.A. But judge for your self, dear reader.
We hang. We crash. It’s raining.