Just do what the man with the camera says

Crossing from Dover to Calais was cool. Ferry travel is the way to go. We pulled into the belly of the boat, parked, and then went above to a higher deck and lounged around this very upmarket looking salon-ish area. It was kind of like hanging out in an airport departure gate.

The trip across the English Channel at Dover to Calais is only about 20 miles, so the voyage is about and hour and ten minutes. I spent the lion’s share of that out on deck watching the black ocean surge by. There was a stiff breeze, so the seas were medium rough. There was definitely some rocking motion to the deck. Halfway across we were suddenly being tailed by a cloud of 10000 seagulls. They were dipping and diving in the lee of the ship and looked like a handful of white confetti tossed against the black sky. I mostly loathe seagulls, but this was quite a sight.

Once in Calais, we checked into the most unpleasant hotel I have ever seen. I suppose I should be grateful to be sleeping out of the weather, yes, and I didn’t have to come out of pocket for this place, so I shouldn’t complain… but you had to SEE this place. The rooms contained a double bed and then a sort of flyover bed, like a bunk bed but perpendicular to the double bed. It reminded me of a bridge over the interstate. The room itself had one hard and dilapidated chair with more screws missing than it still possessed, a tiny desk and a television that was screwed to the wall. Bathrooms were common areas down the hall- toilet in one closet, shower in the other. Everything was made of colored plastic or concrete and I could stand in the middle of the room and nearly touch both walls. I think that these places exist as halfway points for immigrants workers coming into or going out of France. I can’t imagine anyone staying there for anything other than the most rudimentary need to sleep SOMEWHERE as cheaply as possible. That said, we slept like logs because we were tired from all of the driving.

However, we did go out and have a meal before settling into our hard little beds. I had my first meal in France, Boeuf Bourgenione, served with fries, and it was SPECTACULAR. There is a large shopping center in Calais, I am sure that it exists to cater to folks crossing over from the UK to buy tobacco, whiskey and other goods that are heavily taxed in the UK. Just next to that was a surprisingly cozy little restaurant where we had a truly excellent French meal while watching the French sports channel and arguing about whether Muse or Kean are a worse band.

The next morning we rose as early as we could stand, and I staggered down to the shower closet, where I reluctantly took the hottest shower imaginable. There were two temperatures in this shower- scalding and off. I was very pink for the first few hours of the day.

Since this is my first trip to France, I spent all morning staring out the windows of the van and soaking it all in. Just outside of Calais, there are huge community gardens- I am guessing that if one has an apartment in a high rise and no place to grow a garden, then the family can rent one of these plots- there are small shacks that I would guess are full of tools, seeds, fertilizer and other necessities. There are also large tanks outside that may contain agricultural chemicals or just water for irrigation. Even this late in the year, the gardens were still going strong, full of cabbages and what looked like kale and other fall crops. I have never seen anything like that in an American city.

Just past Calais going into France, there is some open countryside. This is, if I understand correctly, considered by the French to be “redneck France,” so I was interested to see if I felt at home. An hour into our drive, a pale yellow old Citroen was parked at the end of a road near the highway. Walking out of the woods was a fine looking dog and three men who were all (safely) carrying shotguns and dressed in boots and wool hunting clothes. I assume rabbit season is open in Northern France, then. I suspect that the locals can think of some tasty things to do with a freshly killed rabbit or pheasant.

We stopped for coffee at a truck stop about an hour later and while I was standing there the fucking TGV (“Train de Grande Vitesse” or, directly translated, “The Train of Big Speed”) came rocketing past. The TGV must travel at over 120 mph. The sound it makes is earthshaking. What a way to travel!

The road to Paris from Calais parallels the TGV track for much of the way, and at least three times while we were doing 70 or 80 mph the TGV blasted past us like we were standing still. I need to take that train one day. It’s a beast.

Presently we arrived in Paris and promptly got stuck in traffic. I could see several things from the highway that are made famous by French hip hop. I saw Les Cités, the housing projects north of the Arrondissment. I do not know if I saw the famous “93” (or “le neuf-trois”), home to many many many French hip hop artists. I also saw a dozen signs for “St. Denis,” the neighborhood immortalized in the NTM song of the same title.

Once we got off of the freeway, traffic stopped completely. That’s when I started using Mac Stumbler to troll for open wireless connections and was able to post yesterday. We had a five o’clock deadline to meet Vincent Moon, the increasingly famous (or notorious) video director who likes to put bands in strange and incongruous settings and film them playing acoustically or with minimal instrumentation. We found ourselves a few blocks from the club and not moving at all. Keith parked the van and we grabbed a couple of acoustic guitars, a snare drum, some brushes and a tambourine and started walking. (When I say “not moving,” I mean, seriously, stopped completely.) We eventually found the club, met Vincent and went looking for a place to set up. Vincent knows Paris like the back of his hand, and he’s a bit of an idiosyncratic (and very French) artist. We walked up and down alleys while he looked for the perfect location and explained to me how he likes to work. Parker and Daniel followed playing their guitars and singing. We were very much like wandering troubadours or something. Barzin, fellow Monotreme artist, was playing the part of Boby and running boom sound. (Thanks, B.) I would have found this behavior a little obnoxious in Athens, but this was Paris, and Paris is its own thing.

Vincent: I like to walk with the band until I find the perfect spot, then I like for them to start playing the instruments and I film the people’s reactions as they play. In cafés or in the library or something….

Me: That’s interesting. Do you ask permission, usually?

Vincent: What? Why? If I don’t have to? Of course not!

Me: Oh, yes, of course not. Silly me…

Vincent pauses and very thoughtfully considers a shop specializing in mildly erotic postcards from the 1920s and 30s….

Me: That’s a very nice camera… Was it expensive?

Vincent: I don’t know. I borrowed it. I don’t own my own camera.

Me: Oh, of course not….

Vincent is really one-of-a-kind and perfectly French in his approach to his art, I think. We turned a corner in this alley and there before us was the most completely Old French café you could possibly imagine. It was packed with older Parisians who were smoking and drinking and having after-work conversations. Vincent walked in and asked the staff if we could shoot a band from the United States playing a song. Everyone shrugged. Why not? It’s Paris.

Daniel and I set up at the table furthest to the rear- I put the snare drum on an old wooden ladderback chair and put the tambourine on the table top. Daniel stood with his guitar strapped on and Parker had this odd look on his face. I don’t think he was thrilled at the possibility of singing at the top of his lungs in a room full of complete strangers who just seconds before were having their evening repast and cocktails. Everyone but me ordered drinks and somehow a Scotch appeared in front of me. This was fortunate, because I don’t drink and Parker was clearly going to need more than one.

Vincent led Parker out, whilst shouting to Daniel and me “I am going to be following him with the camera and you will start playing when he gets to you. OK, it will be great. YES!”

Parker followed him out on shaky knees and five minutes later, he was back, playing guitar and singing the first verse of “Black Bees” at the top of his lungs. Vincent and Barzin were right behind…

Parker paused for a millisecond at the end of the verse to have a large swallow from one of the glasses on the table, and then we launched into the chorus together. The Parisians in the café watched with a mildly bemused disinterest. It was actually kind of magical, with Vincent swooping around with his camera, all of these worldly and cosmopolitan people watching and Parker singing with a flush in his cheeks and a gleam in his eye- half from the scotch and half from the audacity of what we were doing.

We finished the song, and Vincent wheeled around and marched out the door with the camera rolling. The Parisian Café-goers played their parts perfectly: They went right to being completely uninterested.

Next, Vincent suggested we walk into this very upscale restaurant and start playing. He said to us as we were walking there “This place, the building and the rooms, they are very beautiful, but the people… they are just terrible. They are very mean… So mean… We are not going to ask permission. We are just going to attack.”

“Um…” we said.

“It weel be grreat….” he said.

“Er….” we said.

We walked through the archway to the courtyard and there were large men in ill-fitting tuxedoes who were clearly hired to stand around and prevent EXACTLY the sort of thing we were thinking of doing.

Parker said “Vincent, you see that guy? I can tell he’s going to be the one to break my neck. Look at him.”

“No No, Parker, it will be perfect!”

Parker put his foot down, and we demurred. Interestingly, right across the street, there was another 200 year old arch, this one lit from below by lights recessed into the street. I took the snare drum out of the case, and placed it over one of the lights. The translucent white drumhead diffused the light into this really warm amber glow. Vincent got very excited, we all placed ourselves at good spots under the arches, and we played “Five Ways I Didn’t Die” while more indifferent Parisians walked by. I think that it looked really good.

Next, Vincent led us up the street and said “I ‘ave an idea. You are going to start playing “Dear Flies, Love Spider” and you are going to get on a bus. We will ride for a few stops while you play the song, then we will get off.”

“How much does the bus cost?” I said, digging for Euros in my pocket.

“We will not pay. We will ee-jock the bus.”

“‘EEE-Jock?’ You mean….. HIJACK the bus??”

“Yes. Perfect. It will be here any moment…”

I turned to Daniel and said “OK, what’s the worst that could happen? A couple of hours in jail in Paris? We’ll be fine.”

This didn’t seem to reassure him or Parker.

Parker began to creep away, as if perhaps if he wandered far enough away, he might miss the bus and that might keep him from having to do this. My sense of adventure was really cranked up, though. I called him over. I wasn’t letting him wander off.

We stood there, and I could see Parker’s pulse pounding in his neck. It’s a vulnerable job, singing in a band. Doubly so, doing it with an acoustic guitar, especially when you’re used to playing electric with a big fuck-off amplifier, TRIPLY so when you’re randomly wandering into people’s lives on the streets of Paris, never mind that we’re about to illegally board a bus, completely ignore the driver, place ourselves amidst the other passengers, and then… sing them a little song.

The bus came, we started playing. Vincent was filming. Barzin was recording… The doors opened, we all walked on- I was holding the snare drum and tambourine with one hand and playing them with a brush held in the other. Parker and Daniel were of course playing their acoustics, Vincent was filming, and none of us even looked at the driver as we boarded. I looked over my shoulder, smiled and shrugged at him as we walked down the center aisle and positioned ourselves in the center of the bus. He shrugged and started driving away. Our first hurdle was cleared.

The other passengers were kind of stunned, but they seemed to enjoy the music. We stopped at the first bus stop just in time for the first quiet passage of the song, then into the first chorus as we pulled away. No one had said a thing to us and everyone seemed quite content for us to bang away.

Vincent’s expression was positively lupine with joy when suddenly, he said “OH NO! The BATTERY!! The CAMERA BATTERY!! IT HAS DIED!!”

We stopped playing. Disaster. Vincent’s whole body sagged. It had been going so well. He was heartbroken. We were heartbroken. All that anxiety for nothing. The bus stopped, the doors opened and we got off. We walked back to the club in near-silence.

Once we were back at the club, Vincent went rummaging around in the borrowed camera bag and announced “Oh, look. I have another battery! Let’s film that song, I love that song… let’s just do it here. We can do it here in the club.”

“Oh, no…. ” said Parker. “Let’s go catch a fucking bus…. I ain’t going back to Georgia, telling people this story and then when they say ‘OK, let’s see the footage,’ telling them ‘Oh, the camera died. This dressing room could be anywhere. We could be in Pittsburgh. Fuck that. BRING ME A BUS.'”

Vincent was ambivalent. “I don’t know. Will it work twice? I don’t know…”

Parker wasn’t having it. He’d been through too much to stop now. He marched us back to the bus stop and nearly threw us on a bus.

This time, we got all the way through the song. There were two old French ladies who decided that they were going to sing some traditional French song because they didn’t like what we were doing. Parker noticed this and… SANG LOUDER.

Vincent was zooming around with his camera. I was rapping on my drum and tambourine- Parker and Daniel were nailing the harmonies, and then… the song was over… We all stood there gawking at one another. Vincent seemed even more astonished than we did. The bus doors opened and we tumbled into the street. There was much joy and celebration.

Vincent shouted “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT WORKED!”

Uh, we thought YOU had it under control, dude.

Um…

Holy shit, I am in France.

I am stuck in traffic and posting from stolen wi-fi, though.

Two rules for driving in Paris:
1. If there is a space in front of you, move into it. Immediately and without looking side to side.

2. If there is no space in front of you, honk.

Here ends the lesson.

driving through the english countryside on the way to Dover

I am using the laptop to write from the back seat of Keef’s van. We are speeding towards the White Cliffs of Dover to catch the ferry to Calais. Astonishingly, we are early. The Low Lows are truly unlike any band I have every traveled with.

There is another band on Monotreme called Barzin. I don’t know much about them, but they are playing in Paris tomorrow night. We are meeting them in Paris, since we are going to be there for the video shoot and interview with Vincent Moon. They have asked to use my kit and snare. The kit I am okay with, since it’s Monotreme’s, and it would be just idiotic for me to say no. However, the snare is mine, and it’s from my old Slingerland kit. That kit is 50+ years old, and the snare is irreplaceable. I have been in this dilemma before- people ask to borrow equipment that is not only too expensive to ever be replaced, it’s impossible to replace. There just aren’t that many of these drums out there, and most of them are NOT for sale. I hope that the drummer from Barzin understands when he gets the word that I will share my kit and cymbals, but the kit stays locked in the van unless I am playing it. It’s not that I think he’s going to hit it so hard that it breaks, it’s that if it gets stolen from the stage or knocked over or if spills something on it, I want it to be my fault. That way I can just feel badly about it, but not hate someone I barely know for the rest of my life. I hope that when Kim calls back and says “Patrick says No” that she communicates to him that I am just worried that something untoward might happen and that I just don’t want to risk it. Maybe I am being stupid…. this sort of thing can expand into a bad reputation for a musician…

Tonight we will be crossing the English Channel by ferry into France. I have never used my French for anything more substantial than helping a drunk frenchman catch a bus or translating French hip hop lyrics. This should be fun. SHOULD be fun…

I honestly don’t have any expectation of France, so I have no idea what to expect. I can’t really go on what people have told me, because it’s all contradictory. “The French are rude, especially if you speak bad French to them” vs. “Just try to speak French and watch them open up, they’re so accommodating if you’re making an effort.” ???

Traveling to France has been a lifelong ambition for me, so I am trying not to set myself up for some sort of disappointment.

Driving through the English countryside today was gorgeous. The network of hedgerows and the square patches of green in between are only familiar to me as seen from the air. I have watched dozens of films, both documentary and dramatized, of American B-17s and B-29s going to and from Germany and when bomber crews bail out, that’s why is waiting through the door, 10,000 feet down. I did some research on the Battle of Britain this week as we prepared to cross the Channel. Thank god for the RAF, huh? “Never have so many owed so much to so few,” indeed. What if Britain had negotiated a peace-at-gunpoint with the Nazis? Where would the US have staged from in Europe? The effective end of the Battle of Britain came when the Nazis were forced to move their bombers to the Russian Front in May of 1941. Nazi warplanes had unsuccessfully tried to bomb the English into a negotiated surrender. The Blitz of London was an attempt to break the British will to resist the Nazi war machine. (Good luck with that, by the way. You’re never going to overwhelm a people who can (happily!) live on suet pudding and mushy peas. These are people not afraid to suffer. They do it every day at lunch.) The newly elected PM, Winston Churchill, as most of you know, wasn’t having any of that.

It’s easy to look at these things in hindsight and say “Well, y’know, that’s nice” while not really giving any profound thought to what MIGHT have happened.

At the time, there was a possibility that the Nazis were just going to keep bombing Britain until it all looked like Krakow did in 1944. Most of the large cities in Poland were uninhabitable and nearly razed by the end of the war. All of their inhabitants had either fled to the countryside or were living by hiding in ruined buildings and foraging for scraps of food amongst the ruins. For Churchill to say of the struggle to preserve Britain that future generations would look back upon the fight and say “This will be their finest hour” was remarkably courageous. Imagine how history would view the old Tory bastard if England had fallen…

just a thought.

Well, battery is getting low and we’re about to drive onto the ferry. More when Io get to an internet connection.

OK, that’s not funny

I am snatching a VERY expensive moment of WiFi at the truckstop in Devon as we drive towards the ferry in Dover.

Our show last night wasn’t so great. There were a lot of kids there, and the other bands (three of them) were generic MySpace punk, two of which shared the same terrible drummer. When we got up to play, the kids gave us the “Eh, wot?” look, and began to drift towards the door. I think that when they heard “American band” they thought My Chemical Romance. They weren’t expecting a cross between My Bloody Valentine and My Morning Jacket.

We went to the hotel and Parker made me laugh hard and long about something I have been worried about for about ten years. Details=unimportant. We were up half the night laughing until our faces hurt.

If you have been reading, you know that my brother sent me this lovely postcard with a song that I now love, even if it is by Coldplay. I just heard a snatch of it over the PA here in the truck stop, immediately followed by a snatch of “Losing my Religion” by my neighbors.

Yes, even hot shit rock and roll drummer on world tours get homesick. Nice one, $deity. *sigh*

hope everyone is well. Can’t wait to see you, folks.

Hull y’all doin’?

Hull is about a four and a half hours’ drive from London. It’s not that far as the crow flies, but it takes FOREVER to get out of London. It took hours and hours to wind our way through traffic to get to a highway that would actually allow us to leave.

Once we were on “the motorway” I was struck again by how much rural England resembles rural Virginia. No wonder the English settled there. I pointed this out to the rest of the band, and Parker said “Wait until you see Spain. You’ll totally understand why the Spanish settled in Mexico.” After speaking extensively to the Swedish guys in Amandine, the whole Swedes/Minnesota things starts to make more sense, too…

There are a lot of things I am only just coming to understand because of this tour- why the Vichy Government of France and Vichy Water share the same name, for example.

Hull is a college town that recalls some of the worst of Athens on a game day, only colder, damper and in bad need of a coat of paint. Granted, we got there in the dark and went straight to the Adelphi club, which is not in the swankest part of town, so we perhaps didn’t see Hull at its best.

Keef, Daniel and I went out to get some air and a bite to eat, but didn’t get much of either. There was a cold drizzle falling, a stiff breeze and dining options in the unfortunate direction we traveled were almost exclusively student food take-out. Kebab, pizza, fish and chips, and due to the heinous exchange rate right now, even crap is expensive for Americans. There was a wave of kids coming towards us from the long, low slung student ghetto. The guys were, for the most part, dressed sanely, but the girls were startlingly underdressed for the freezing drizzle. Keef said that’s not so unusual up there.

When we got back to the club, Parker breathlessly informed us that we had missed The Best Band In The World. Fortunately, the Schoolgirls gave us each a CD and some buttons. Next time, I won’t miss them.

As were standing in the club before our set, I said to the boys, “Remember how a week ago I was saying that there haven’t been any clubs in the UK that are built like and feel like the clubs in Mississippi? I take it back.”

The Adelphi is a thoroughly unlovable building- it’s a cold cast concrete structure with peeling paint and everything in it is damp. It’s seen better days, for certain, but the people who work there are some of the friendliest, most competent and most personable I have ever met in a rock club. The audience was attentive and supportive and, best of all, they “got” the Low Lows. Onstage, it was genuinely hot and Hull is humid enough that halfway through the show, I turned to Parker and said “Brother, we are IN MISSISSIPPI….” We played like it, too- last night was a shambling, boisterous and slightly drunken rock and roll revel. If you were there, you might not have recognized some of the songs as you know them, but I bet you would have been tapping your foot.

Jim, the sound man was a real pro (again! What’s up with UK clubs and hiring competent engineers? Hello, US clubs, please take note!) and our show was pretty excellent, if not perfectly played.

Afterwards, there was a concerted effort to get the paying customers out the door, and the band packed up our gear, threw everything in boxes, making like we were headed for the van, which is what we thought we were supposed to do. As we were headed out, Paul, the promoter, laid a gentle hand on my shoulder and said “Hold there for a second, lad.” Once the last paying customer was out the door, the staff locked the door and adjourned, along with us and personnel from the other bands, to the room with the pool table (and the front six feet of a city bus??) where the most amazing curry (EVAR!) was served, along with a few lagers for the boys. We shot pool and talked until 2 in the morning. It was nice, people were friendly, the conversations spiraled into the night, and at some point I looked up and said to Parker, “Man, I gotta tell you…. I feel like I’m in my hometown.”

Hull may not be the poshest place on earth, but the fine folks at the Adelphi are making the best of it. It’s a good scene filled with good people. I can’t wait to take Music Hates You there.

The hotel to which we finally decamped was called the Admiral Wyndham. It is a bed and breakfast in a Victorian building. Again, like most things in Hull, it has had a day in the sun. Yesterday was not it. The rooms were small and sufficient for sleeping, which was really all I was there to do. We all gathered in Keef and I’s room for a post-show, post-hanging out bit of planning and debriefing. We decided that we actually really liked Hull, despite its general shabbiness. Students and constant dampness can be hard on a place. We’ll definitely be back.

This morning, I couldn’t summon any hot water to the second floor. I ended up using the kettle to make a pot of tea AND to heat some water for washing my face in the sink. Today’s drive was about five hours and I am starting to get kind of used to the UK travel stops. At first, everything was new and I was running around pointing at things and asking Keef “What’s this? What’s this?? My god, how do you eat that?” Now, I can tell a British Pie from a Yorkshire Pudding, I know how long to steep PG Tips to make a decent cuppa and I know that mince pies are ok but that they but could use more nuts.

We are in Exeter, a substantially more posh town that Hull. How do I know? Free wireless internet in the club is a good clue. We haven’t played yet- we are the last of four bands, and the second one is on now. Between sets, they play mclusky, which makes me very happy.

By the way, look who has been featured on All Songs Considered. The Low Lows’ video is also being played on UK MTV. (Did I mention that already?)

It’s exciting to be behind a band whose star is rising. This is fun.

Yeah, man

I miss you, too.

I love this song- so funny that I listened to the whole thing before I clicked through to discover that it’s Coldplay. I like to pretend that I don’t like them, and then I’ll be at Kroger at 3am and “Clocks” (I think that’s what it’s called) will come on the muzak station, and, depending on my mood, I’ll either fall into a blue hole or think “I should be playing more music.” (or both)

To those of you who haven’t been able to reach me by email or IM or cell phone, I am just days between steady internet right now. I will write you as fast as I can!

And I miss you. This is fun and all, but it would be better if we were all on a big bus.

Brighton Beach- someone stole all the sand

The Low Lows played Brighton the night before last, and we got there early enough to go for a walk on the beach. Oddly, there is no sand there. This makes for a nice walk if you’re worried about getting sand in your shoes, but it’s tough going if you’re wearing cowboy boots.

Brighton is apparently headquarters for the UK’s crusty gutterpunk population. Some of my best friends are crusties, so I feel I can say this without fear of outrage or reprisal: You wouldn’t think crusties would settle so close to the water, lest someone bait them with a shiny piece of facial jewelry, lure them into the ocean and then forcibly bathe them. I would have thought the risk was just…. too great. Then again, the pebble beaches wouldn’t hold much of a bathtub ring, would they? How would anyone know it hasn’t happened already?

The club in Brighton was called The Hope. Lovely place, also a second floor club. The engineer was talented and a very nice guy. All in all, another very successful gig. The drive back to London was painless, though it was Daniel’s turn to have the queasies that we have been passing around. Poor guy, he seems to have suffered more than the rest of us.

Yesterday, the weather here in the UK finally lived up to its reputation- it pissed down rain most of the day. Just the sort of miserable cold drizzle that London is famous for. I took the train to Waterloo Station, caught the North Line to Camden Town, and got off the train on Mars, I think. I have never seen anything like Camden. First of all, though, when I did get off the train, the police were EVERYWHERE, randomly stopping people and asking to see their documentation. I heard them asking a guy who spoke only Russian or Polish “How long have you been in this country?” [translator speaks other language, guy answers] “What is your business here?”

I have to say, there’s an element of authoritarianism to life in London these days. I just have to put that out there. Random stop-and-harrass questionings are kind of a bad precedent for personal freedom. Couple this with the thousands and thousands of closed circuit television cameras in the UK, and there’s a disturbing anti-privacy trend at work here. Discuss.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes??

I briefly thought about being the sort of person that cops hate- and stopping and asking them “HAS THIS MAN DONE ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU THINK HE IS GUILTY OF A CRIME? IS HE FREE TO GO?” I would do it in a heartbeat in the US. I don’t think the police should be able to randomly stop people, but then, I grew up with a thing called the 4th Amendment. The British don’t really have one of those. PLUS, I wasn’t carrying any documentation of my own, except my US drivers license. I didn’t have my work permit or my passport with me, because I like to leave those somewhere safe when I am out wandering around.

I met David, old friend and musician who shared my earliest musical experiences- we grew up in Columbus, Georgia together. He’s been living in the UK for about ten years, and has, for the most part, really Had It With The English. An American black man in the UK working in the music business is going to run up against certain cultural and class barriers, and he’s ready to get the hell on to something else, I think. However, he was glad to show me Camden, which I must say… as I have said before this morning, I have never seen ANYTHING like it. Camden is a huge open market, with both permanent and temporary stalls. If I wasn’t broke and traveling with limited space, I might have bought a ton of silly stuff yesterday. Walking through Camden market is a feast for the senses. Music blasts from every direction, the smell of food, coffee, wine, incense and freshly sawn wood (there are even furniture shops) come wafting in, and there are people of every description in every direction- Chinese immigrants, punks, goths, West Indians, pervy looking old guys following the UK Suicide Girls around, people of every size, shape, odd hair color… It was truly mind-boggling.

David and I then rode over to SoHo and met frequent commenter here and friend Vicky, and we had dinner and some coffee. Vicky was an angel, and bought me the Banksy book that I was swooning over. I have seldom been happier about a gift, sincerely. Thanks, Vick. I read it all the way home on the bus and nearly missed my stop.

Then, suddenly, there was Daniel and… The Swinging London Architects!! Tori and Christiane took us on the Walking Tour of SoHo as we struggled to find a bar that wasn’t both too crowded to enjoy and/or playing the “Theme from Footloose!” at tooth-rattling volumes. We finally settled on an underground bar called Freud. (I was disappointed that there was no sign that said “Ask about our Mother’s Day specials!”) (Also, how could you have a bar called Freud that doesn’t allow cigar smoking? Hello?) The music there was loud, but not so loud that we couldn’t talk.

It was also packed, but people were largely stationary. We spent hours there talking and watching people. It was a nice time, actually. It was an excellent way to spend our last night in London before heading out on the rest of the tour.

On the way to catch the bus back here to Kim’s, I saw two people having drunken sex in a phone booth. SoHo on a Friday night: The aftermath isn’t pretty. Also, I felt sort of out of place, since I was the only one not eating a hot dog or arguing with a policeman. I ended up helping two drunken Frenchmen to find their bus out to Pimlico. Who knew that I would use my high school French classes to say “Look, if you’re gonna vomit, do it before you get on the bus….”

(Monsieur, si vous allez vomir, le font avant que vous montiez dans l’autobus.)

I got back to the flat, and Parker and I packed and talked and I tried to fix the internet connection here because it was down for some reason. I finally got it working and talked to Lisa until, gulp…. 5 am.

I need to get cracking. Keef will be here soon, and we have a long drive in front of us.

The Luminaire is the Greatest Rock Club of ALL TIME

Not least because of the cheap Thai food from the pub downstairs.

The Low Lows were back at the Luminaire in London last night. I have never been happier in my life to climb two flights of steps to the second story of a club. We played with Chicago band Catfish Haven and Swedish Americana band Amandine. (I love typing that- “Swedish Americana Band…”)

Just before I left the States, I was able to spend the weekend with my grandfather and we went fishing for catfish in Alabama. He caught two of the largest catfish I have ever seen. I caught one little old bass and, quite honestly, I’ve smoked bigger cigars than that little fish. Anyway, playing with a band with the word “catfish” in their name reminded me of that.

W.I.Z. turned up, even though he had thought he was going to be out of town with his girlfriend’s band. We had dinner together and then pretty much dashed upstairs for the last few minutes of Amandine’s set before throwing all of our gear onstage and setting to the task at hand.

Here’s where the magic of the Luminaire really shows itself, though. The sound at the Luminaire is probably better than any club where I have ever played. The onstage mix is heaven. It’s like Matt the soundman has wired the monitor mix right into my cerebral cortex. I hear everything flawlessly, and that always relaxes me as a player. Once we’re completely comfortable up there, we can get to doing what we do without nagging little distractions. This makes for great shows, and last night was no exception.

OK, so the fantastic Thai food and the flawless mix are two reasons why the Luminaire is the Greatest Rock Club of all time, and here’s the third:

ABOUT US:
The Luminaire opened its doors on 1 March 2005. We were sick of the way bands and gig-goers were treated by promoters and venues. We never understood why things had to be so confrontational, why sound engineers snapped at bands who requested the most basic things. We never understood why people who were supposed to love music treated those who made it and those who came to listen with disrespect. We still don’t understand it.
We hoped that if we met our bands with a smile and a handshake, helped them load in, showed them round, offered them clean towels, tea and coffee, fresh milk, beer and water, and somewhere comfortable to sit backstage, and gave them a calm, friendly sound engineer to work with, they’d really appreciate it.

We thought that, instead of acting aloof and moody when people arrived for a gig, we welcomed them and asked how they were and maybe had a bit of a conversation and a laugh, they’d remember that and tell their friends.

And we figured that if we employed people behind the bar who genuinely loved live music and who knew that, when an acoustic act was playing, they had to do their best to serve drinks quietly, it would be greatly appreciated by our customers.

In December 2006, just nine months after opening, Time Out magazine nominated The Luminaire in its Venue Of The Year category.

If there’s a musician among you who read that and didn’t get a little lump in his/her throat, then you haven’t toured enough.

After the show, there was Vicky from London, old friend and former houseguest of mine in Athens. W.I.Z. and she and I adjourned to the Bizarre Chip Shop™ across the street for something approximating coffee and a slice of something approximating apple pie. Really astonishingly lifelike imitations of the Real Thing, they were.

W.I.Z. had to get to Victoria Station to get the train back to Brighton, and Vicky had to get home to let out Jimi, her faithful and loving dog, so I returned to the club only to discover that I had been missing the party. I hate it when that happens.

After much milling about, most of it genial and drunken, I had to suffer two major disappointments: 1. the cool black Luminaire t-shirt with the skull and the word “LONDON” in huge letters across the bottom was only available in one size: “God, you’ve gotten fat,” and 2. the plan for Daniel and assorted of us to wander over to the Knotting Hill Arts Club with for hours of dancing and hanging out with The Swinging London Architects was just not going to be practical for me, since it would mean getting back to Kim’s at dawn, and we have to go to Brighton today, like right now. Like ten minutes ago. I believe that the size for that is called “God, you’ve gotten old.”

This whole sleep thing. I have become attached to it, to my detriment.

And so, we came back here and had the argument with Keef that all Yanks have to have with all Limeys… “Yes, we all own guns, so what?” That raged back and forth for an hour, and then we all went to bed, satisfied that we were right (even if we were wrong, Keef).

What a glorious thing to wake up to on CNN

Dems take house, Senate may not be too far behind.

God, I miss bitching about the Democrats being too conservative with their mandate. Let’s see if Speaker Pelosi handles it any better than the Crew of ’90.

In the meantime, I am sitting in Kim from Monotreme’s lovely kitchen yet again, enjoying coffee and the sounds of the London Streets coming in through the open patio door. Why is London milder than Athens, GA this year? Lisa is telling me in email after email about how cold and awful it is back home.

We played in Oxford last night. The club was truly a pub in the Olde School sense. The only concession to modernity that I was able to discern was the large flat TV over the fireplace (for watching “the footy”) and there were large deep couches- two of them. Everything else was stone walls and big wooden tables that looked to be 100 years old if they were a day. We played upstairs, but not before I sat down with a book, a decent sized mug of tea and watched the scores fly by “on telly.” Sundays, this pub (the “Port Mahon”) has some classically english repast that includes roast beef, mushy peas and “yorkies,” which I gather are not small black dogs.

Our gig was louder and faster than a normal Low Lows show. I think I am having an influence, for better or (god forbid) for worse, on the Low Lows. We sounded like Sonic Youth doing Porch Music last night. I hope I am not violating the Prime Directive here. The Oxford fans seemed to be very pleased, and took Low Lows stickers, Music Hates You buttons (I had to give some of those away) and handshakes away.

As we left the show, the fog had settled very thickly over the road between Oxford and London. Keef drove with what felt like total recklessness to me, until I stopped and wondered why I was so anxious about our speed. What was I worried we were going to hit if we did the speed limit in the fog…? Deer?

“Are there any deer in England, Keef?” I asked.

“Not in 100 years or so,” he said.

Oh. Well, then. ONWARD! FULL SPEED AHEAD! Let’s go home!

Parker got hit with a wave of nausea like he’d never had just as we were leaving Oxford. Maybe we’re passing something around, here. There was no effluvia, just a general seasick feeling like my wave of crippling nausea from the night before. I just asked him and he’s still feeling it. And the answer is “Yeah, kinda.” Not fun.

We listened to the Harmonizing Four as we rolled down the M40 and through the outskirts of London. Keef’s converted Royal Mail van, a Ford diesel, makes a satisfying roar.

How cool are we?

I am looking at prices for Air Berlin flights- since I have some days at the end of this that are completely free, and brother W.I.Z. is going to be there doing some writing. I may have to join him. Berlin Air is super cheap- 67 Euros from Barcelona to Berlin, 50 Euros from Berlin to London. I can do this…..

Back in the USSK

We woke up at 4:30 GMT to catch a cab to catch a bus to catch a plane to get back to London. This is where my spanish skills really came in handy, because I had to tell the cabdriver which bus we needed to catch, tell the busdriver which part of Girona we were going to and once in Girona, I had to make sure everyone got some coffee… 😉

I really did like Barcelona, even if parts of it were really touristy. It seemed more like a beach town to me, and that’s ok. I still want to get back there with Lisa and have a look around with her. It might be fun to rent a car and wander spain for a while.

Once back in the UK, several things hit us rather jarringly- #1 was that we hadn’t had enough sleep. We had some difficulty falling asleep the night before we left B’lona because we weren’t sure if we were going to get a proper wakeup call, seeing as how the phone in the room didn’t work. Plus, y’know, in Spain there’s a certain kind of “Eh, se puede…” thinking that goes into the planning of almost every future event. We set alarms on our cell phone, our watches, our computers, etc. Then we laid awake worrying that we were going to somehow miss all of our connections. No rest for the weary.

#2- London may not be colder on the thermometer, but it’s damp here. It got under my coat like I would imagine the cold in a refrigerator gets down beneath the leaves of a head of cabbage… I was cold all the way down, and sadly,

#3- No more cortados. Daniel got the first cup of coffee in the UK, and it had that UK coffee smell. Mweh, pfui.

We went to the practice space of Keith, our driver, and worked out a couple of acoustic songs for our appearance on the BBC world service broadcast. Speaking of cold and damp… oy. The space was in the basement of some old, old building in Shoreditch. We had to walk past the moderately disinterested stares of the staff of some electronic music label. The only guy who took any interest at all was this guy named Charlie, who was a part-timer at the label working on cataloguing their past releases. He was very nice, pointed out the tea kettle and even hung around for a bit while we practiced. He is the first person I have ever met whose favorite Neil Young record is actually Trans. (We were speculating that in a couple of years, everyone is going to turn around and hail that as the inevitable marriage of Kraftwerk and Graham Parsons, and that it is in an overlooked masterpiece. “Ve knew ve vere right, jah….”)

From there, Keith took us to BBC World Headquarters. I have to confide to you that I am ridiculously sentimental about the BBC World Service radio broadcasts, because back when I was living at the cabin by myself, before blogging, before I lived in Chicago, etc, I was living alone in the woods, in a 1000 acre forest, with no one but the dog for company. I would come in from work in the evenings, make some coffee and turn on Public Radio, and at 7pm, there was Fergus Nicholl telling me what was happening in the world. I don’t mind telling you that were some dark and lonely evenings out there in the woods, when I was wondering why I had ever left Athens and if I was ever going to have saved enough money to move to Chicago and be close to Lisa. BBC World Service was a connection with the rest of the world.

So, here we were at Bush House (no relation to the failed US President(s)) and we were ushered into the studio, where Mark Coles, the exceptionally well-informed and generous guy from the BBC World Service’s program The Beat, interviewed Parker while we all watched from behind the glass.

Daniel, who also has an abiding interest in all things audio, and I were amazed, just stunned, at the sound quality of the speakers BBC had custom built for the control room in the Radio 6 studio. They sounded so nice we just melted into our shoes listening to them. As Mark the engineer pointed out, unfortunately no one is listening on speakers that nice. Yeah, it’s true.

At this point, The Low Lows and your humble narrator had been awake 45 of the previous 48 hours, and we were flying low (low). We were tandem napping- one of us was almost always nodded out for ten minutes, as we wandered our way back in Keef’s van to Kim’s flat. HOWEVER, suddenly, an obsessive need for fish and chips overtook us. Keef shouted “WAIT, THERE’S AN EXCELLENT PLACE CALLED SUPERFISH RIGHT UP HERE!” and a crazed hunt for hot grease, fried fish and potatoes overtook us.

I don’t know what we were thinking, but there we were, sitting in Superfish, exhausted and stuffing ourselves ridiculously full of fish and chips and laughing about Keef’s description of the film The Holy Mountain:

“So, of course, y’see, the second part of the film is a bunch of toads and a bunch of iguanas dressed as the Mayans and the Conquistadors, respectively, and they’re re-enacting the Spanish arrival at Pre-Columbian Mexico… what? No, they’re DRESSED as Mayans and Conquistadors… really… well, you have to see it… and then, all of the pyramids start to run with blood…. OH, and then everything explodes…”

We were goggle-eyed at his description. I think I need to see this film.

So, from there were returned to Kim’s lovely house, and I found myself horribly nauseated from the fish and chips. After consuming an ocean of coffee and tea yesterday just to keep moving forward, I think that a meal as heavy as f’n’c was a bad idea. I would have been slightly better off if I had swallowed a live bear cub. Gosh, just thinking about it now kind of makes me a little queasy.

I spent a few minutes coughing at the toilet thinking “Oh, god, please don’t me barf… oh… ooooh… please let me barf… ugh… ugh…”

I finally laid down and got some sleep. Remind me not to do that ever again. This morning I still feel a little odd, but Daniel insisted that I have some yoghurt and granola and I am starting to feel a little more normal.

Today, on to Oxford!