Next morning, after fitful sleep, we face the facts–we’re deep in jet lag. There’s no free lunch, and there are consequences for hurtling your body through space for 11 hours, plunging earthward on an island it should take you months to reach honestly. The devil is getting his due. A hearty breakfast from kindly Jimmy Rafferty and family perks us up considerably: robust tea, eggs, brown bread, and four varieties of meat, including black and white pudding. We innocently ask the kind couple in a neighboring booth, “What’s in black and white pudding?” The lovely Irishwoman tries her best to summon a smile: “I’m not quite sure. But it’s lovely, try it.” Suspicious. But Marc and Rob go for it, with mixed results. It does involve, blood, after all. We get a call from Andy–can we do a photo shoot with some folks in Castlewellan, just down the road from Rathfriland in County Down? And Andy’s confirmed a BBC Belfast live performance for tonight. Our only day off has turned busy.
We bid our farewells to Jimmy and hit the road north, a flurry of map consulting getting us onto the M1. We retrace the country lanes of County Down to the charming town of Castlewellan, meet Adam and Shelagh, who are helping introduce the red kite raptor back into Ireland. Killed off in Ireland 200 years ago by poisoning and shooting when farmers thought (mistakenly) it was a threat to their livestock, the beautiful five foot wingspan raptor survived in Wales and has been reintroduced and protected by law in Ireland. We follow Adam and Shelagh up a steep winding lane past forest stands and idyllic farms with old cottages, to a point called Play Point, so named because it remains a trysting spot for young couples. And romantic it is, the top of a peak with rock outcroppings and a spectacular view of a u-shaped valley and mountains, hedge bounded farms and grazing land climbing up the distant slope. Shelagh and Adam, an archaeologist by training and a deep font of lore, fill us in on local history and geography, and we keep our eyes to the brooding skies for signs of the red kite, whose nests are in nearby trees and down below. No kites, but Adam finds a buzzard in his powerful telescope, hovering as a black silhouette in the far distance above the valley. The Irish buzzard is actually a quite beautiful and large hawk, and it has survived through the centuries. Greetings, Irish Hawk.
We take some photos with Shelagh and Adam, now fast friends we hope we’ll see again, and we motor down the lanes and onto the highway north to Belfast. This is beautiful country, little rivers everywhere, endless green, and the black and gray clouds are our constant traveling companions. We reach the suburbs of Belfast and the driving turns aggressive and competitive. There are two lanes in each direction, packed with drivers in a hurry, and no divide between the directions. Kinda scary. Our lanes merge suddenly into one, and Paul L tries to get over. A Jaguar is just behind in the desired lane, not yielding. Are we far enough ahead? Paul nudges the van over, and the Jaguar driver goes berserk, honking madly. Apparently we weren’t far enough ahead. The Jaguar races into the bus lane, pulls in front of us, and stops, blocking traffic. An enraged shaved head pokes out of the window, a Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel looking murderous maniac, screaming at us. Paul yells out the window, sorry! But it’s not good enough for our Belfast thug. He takes off, then pulls alongside of us down the road and starts screaming again. Rob rolls down his window and he and Paul simultaneously yell at the guy: We’re Americans! We’re Americans! Apparently they mean to say, we are not acclimated to the driving ways of your land, but whatever the intent, it stymies the Jaguar driver. He gazes bewildered at us for a moment, then races off into traffic. Violent international incident averted.
We spy the brick, glass, and steel modest sized buildings of downtown Belfast, poke ahead through rush hour traffic. We’ve been here before, and it’s looking familiar. There! No, there. We find it: British Broadcasting Corporation Belfast.
On our first visit to BBC Belfast six years ago we were confused when they wouldn’t let us plug in our own amps. What’s this all about? This time, we realize they’re looking for bombs with the strange little electronic device they use to scan our equipment before we’re allowed to plug it in. Of course, how could we have missed it? BBC Belfast is, in fact, a fortress. A historical plaque on the wall outside explains that it was built in 1936 with a steel frame and reinforced concrete floors, walls, and roof. There’s guards stationed at all the entrances and you need to be buzzed through big, solid doors to reach the inside. After decades of enduring The Troubles, the BBC still takes no chances as this potent and symbolic outpost of the British Empire.
Ralph McLean has been hosting a two hour American Roots music show on BBC Belfast for many years. He’s interviewed lots of the big ones: Emmylou, Loretta, Tammy, Merle. So we’re damn glad to be ensconced again in this gleaming, smart, highest tech building. Ralph’s assistant Neve helps us get set up and bang, away we go. Ralph moves quickly and precisely between the live performances and the interview, smart and informed questions, piecing it all together in Protools in real time as we talk. It’s really something to see.
After the interview, Neve recommends an nearby Indian restaurant. We gather together our gear, load the van and keep it in the well-guarded BBC lot, and head out into Belfast. Lots of folks are out on the streets and there seems to be many well armed police around. As we settle in to our top notch Saag Paneer and Cobra beers we hear the drums coming down the street. Orange-clad marching bands with huge banners of ancient saints fill the street right outside the window. What is this? Turns out it’s start of the July 12 Battle of the Boyne celebration (even though it’s still June). Back in 1690 the Protestants defeated the Catholics (with a little help from Pope, curiously) and they’re still celebrating.