I left New York on the afternoon of Monday, the 26th of November, and arrived in England about seven Tuesday morning. Besides clothes and toiletries, my big suitcase and little wheelie were mainly full of CDs. I also had my fiddle, mandolin, and backpack. Only two items were allowed as carry-on, so the backpack had to go in luggage. Everything survived. I brought a Clive Barker book 'Galilee' to read. I had read nothing of his since the Books of Blood in the '80s. I had recently read two interviews of him, which filled me with great interest and respect. Before having kids I used to read maybe eighty to a hundred books a year. Since kids it's been less than ten. A good trade-off, though. I liked the book, which has since been passed to Jennifer Zogott-Levy and Antonia, and want to read more of him, someday when I have more time.
The first gig was for BBC radio in a high tech multi stage venue called the Ocean, which was a 24 million pound refitting of an old (Victorian?) (Edwardian?) building. I hadn't played for several days because of getting ready for the trip, and my chops were off. I was jet lagged, and got about seven hours sleep the first three days I was there. The sound check was three in the afternoon, and we went on at ten. The other two groups that did the show with us were (to me) thumbsucking electronica twaddle. They sure had some swell equipment, though.
I had looked through the monthly Ocean booklet to see if anything was going on before ten o'clock that might be interesting. There was. His name was Doudou Cissoko, and he was from Senegal, where, coincidentally, I am sponsoring a foster child. He sang with a sweet warm voice, and played the kora, a 21 string harplike instrument three or four feet tall that has been played by generations of Cissokos. The booklet said, of the kora, "whose tonality has both the svelte lyricism of a harp and the romanticism of the lute." By god, that sums it up. He was backed by a widely diverse bunch of Brits on guitar, cello, bass, and hand drums. I would recommend his debut recording if it's available 'Dimbaya' on db Records.
Although Gary played brilliantly, as always, I did not. I was nervous and tired, and like I said, having a bad chops day. Of course, the show was put on the radio and the net. We had just worked out We're Still Here, the song I had written about 9/11 for the Village Voice benefit album, Love Songs For New York, and that's where the song had its shaky debut. A lot of fans showed up, though, and they didn't seem to mind my playing as much as I did.
Despite the fact that when I give a crappy performance I feel crappy in general about everything afterwards, my thrilled-to-be-in-foreign-climes tendency uncrappified my mood pretty good.
I left the big suitcase full of CDs at the St. Giles for about $2 a night, and we flew to Holland the next day. It rained almost all the while we were there, but it was my first time, and stuff like salted licorice you could get in vending machines more than made up for it. The club in Rotterdam was called the Worm, and my old friend Ed Ward, who had written the liner notes for the vinyl two record Prestige reissue that came out in the '70s, showed up. I hadn't seen him since the '70s. I had gotten some sleep by this time, and it was a nice, friendly place with a nice, friendly crowd.
People remarked a lot about my enthusiasm while playing as if it was something highly unusual. Maybe over there it is. Under ideal circumstances, which, fortunately, are most of the time, I really get off playing music. Unlike almost everybody else who performs, I never worked out moves and expressions in front of a mirror or did some equivalent "preparation", and this along with my natural hammyness makes my performing pretty - I don't know - open or something. We played two sets, about three hours worth.
I had anticipated spending a little time in Rotterdam, as they had a Hieronymus Bosch exhibit there. But we had to get right to Amsterdam the next day. I quickly came to realize that there wouldn't be that much extra time for sleeping late and sightseeing.
We checked into our rooms in Amsterdam. Speaking of performing with enthusiasm, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama were staying at the same hotel. Gary had made a recording with them some time back. It seems he's made a recording with almost everybody some time back, or in the present, or will eventually. So I met them and shook their hands before our show. Who could ask for anything more? Their enthusiasm is legendary. In their case, it's the Holy Spirit taking over. Maybe all good enthusiasm is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Maybe all bad enthusiasm is diabolic.
As it turns out, we could have asked for something more - some publicity. The club we played, the Paradiso, was once a church, and had several performance spaces in it. We played in the smallest space to a small crowd. There had been very little publicity, and the audience was actually smaller than it had been in the much smaller club and city of Rotterdam. Still had fun playing, though.
Ed Ward attended this show as well. In between sets Gary mentioned that he had brought a tape of the one and only album recorded by Autosalvage around 1970. This surprised Ed, because he had recently gotten in touch with some of the group's members, after writing the liner notes for a CD reissue of their album on the Evangeline label. Galvanized by Ed's call, they might be doing something together in the future. Rounders connection - in 1963 or 4, Weber and I were playing in Boston, and these three twenty year old guys we didn't know offered to put us up. Through the years we've had great luck with being put up by strangers who turned into friends. So these guys were Banana, who went on to play with the Youngbloods (At the time he had a group called � choke � Banana and the Bunch: a group with appeal). The second was Rick Turner, who went on to found Alembic Guitars and Autosalvage, and guy #3, who's name has fled my brain. I think his name starts with a "J", he plays bass, and he went on to do some recording with Michael Hurley. It's a tiny planet after all.
Being that time of the year, Christmas was impacting rather largely. But Santa Claus hasn't made that big an impact on the rest of the world. In Holland they have these two guys instead. One is St Nicolas, an obvious precursor to our Santa guy. I don't know the name of his bud, but I found him weird and embarrassing. He's a black guy, dressed in the manner of the 1600s or 1700s, and portrayed in the racist style common here a hundred years ago�googley eyes, and big, red-rimmed lips, often set in a creepy disturbing smile, and completely black skin. I was watching the kid's TV channel in the hotel room, and these two got a lot of play. The black guy usually played in the fool mode - sort of a manic Stepin Fetchit, if that's how the old black movie actor's name is spelled. He was always a white guy done up with burnt cork, minstrel show style. One skit I saw ended up with St. Nick on a rooftop, riding a camel (!), while the black guy was on foot behind him. And he even had to carry the big sack of presents while the unburdened St Nick didn't even have to walk! White man's burden indeed.
I have a friend who collects shlocky post cards, so I'm always on the lookout for them when I'm in a new place. I really struck gold in Amsterdam. There were about a dozen seasonal ones portraying the two Dutch Christmas guys, mostly repros of older ones. These clarified the black guy's role. In some of them he carried a big switch, a bunch of sticks tied together. In one he had a screaming little boy over his knee, and he was wailing the tar out of him, as they used to say. In another, he's got these really scary bugged eyes and that awful grin, and he's throwing candy from his sack to a bunch of good little boys and girls, while St Nick looks on approvingly. So his role was to reward or punish, besides doing all the heavy lifting. Ho ho ho.
We flew back to the UK and took a train to Glasgow, where it was cold and raining, but the Victorian station was a jawdropper and a half. The people were warm and enthusiastic, we had a great time, and we got a nice writeup in the Glasgow Herald. I especially liked the part about us dragging the Smithsonian Institute to the Looney bin. And it was wonderful to meet people who had been fans for decades.
The next day we played in Perth, which is north of Glasgow, but on the North Sea side of the island. The club included an inn with great rooms to stay in, and was next to a road with a sign pointing towards a castle. It was an uphill walk of a couple miles with a small stream of water running down one side of the road, then the other. Every so often a pipe would bring the water underneath the road to the other side. I couldn't tell why they decided to do that. Must have had their reasons. Periodically a baby waterfall fed the stream. Nice walk. It was a small castle, as castles go, and you couldn't get inside, but walking around it was just fine.