Canada 2015: Blog 4 – Hillside, Detroit, Nashville then Home!

After taking the overnight flight back across Canada to Ontario (our itinerary was specially calculated to maximise our frequent flyer points), we had a couple of days off, so while the rest of us slept Lear hired a car and popped across the border with his shiny new US visa to visit his in-laws in Rochester – the very same lovely people who were unfairly cheated of their chance to star in our blog series from last year’s tour by a guilt ridden blogger who ran off to South Africa instead of writing the final blog… but that’s another story…

The next festival to play was Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ontario. Until now, the word “Guelph” has only ever featured in my life as an involuntary sound made by my stomach to signify that it has had enough beer and pizza for the evening, but now “Guelph” has taken on a whole new meaning as a very cool Canadian town boasting, among other things, beautiful Victorian era buildings which give it a distinctly European flavour.

Before the festival we had the luxury of conducting an interview with Jan from Folk Roots Radio without even having to set foot outside of our hotel room.

 hotel interview2Easiest radio interview ever.

hotel interview

The actual festival was held out of town on a little island at Guelph Lake Conservation Area. The island was joined to land by a narrow land bridge for the punters to walk, while the artists enjoyed the luxury of being shuttled to and from the stage in a cute little motorised raft.

hillside boat james lear

A leisurely way to get to a gig. Although, Lear looks like he might be afraid of drowning!

hillside boat dock

Approaching the backstage dock.

hillside pano

Click on this panorama for the full effect

hillside stage

Eileen and co. rocking out on “Where You Been” – our “most photographed song”.

As well as a fun set on the main stage, we also had the pleasure of doing a workshop with a great band called The Spring Standards, from New York, comprised of Heather, James and James. I was highly jealous of the fact that in their band, Jameses held a 66.67% majority, compared with Perch Creek’s pitifully low 20% James content. I can only dream of a time when Perch Creek might get a few more James’ on board so we can finally wield the upper hand and right the wrongs done to us! My psychologist says I have underdog issues…

hillside james

“Imagine a Perch Creek with a couple more guys like this!

hillside ice cream

It was definitely ice cream weather.

hillside swimming

I must admit that when you travel around going to festivals all over the world, you do get a little jaded, which is why we were pleasantly surprised to be completely and utterly gobsmacked by a Ukrainian band called DakhaBrakha, who, as far as we could tell, were operating on a whole new level – musically, sonically and theatrically, not to mention their radical outfits.

dakhabraka

At the time I was far too gobsmacked to take a picture, which is why I’m now committing a minor copyright infringement by lifting this photo off someone else’s website.

All the festivals we had played in Canada so far had a real commitment to reducing waste, with Hillside claiming to be a zero waste event, which is pretty cool, even if dividing your lunch scraps into different types of compostible/recyclable/reusable waste can create a few additional moments of head scratching at the bins.

hillside trash

Theoretically, the only things going in the “Landfill” section would be things that thoughtless punters would have brought onto the island themselves.

 hillside dishes

I definitely won’t be volunteering on the dishes team!

With Hillside Festival all done and dusted, as well as a Monday night gig at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, it was time to say goodbye to all those friendly Canadians (they really are friendly!), hire a couple of cars and drive down to Detroit, USA. At the border, those of us with “smart brains” (that’s Eileen, Christi and Lear talk for, you guessed it, Eileen, Christi and Lear) opened up their passports to the page with the visa and sailed through customs, while those of us with supposedly “dumb brains” (Camilla and myself), merely handed our closed passports to the customs guy, verbally informing him that we had visas. The customs officer responded by shouting a few questions at us, then flicking through a few passport pages, before deciding that we must be lying about the visas because he didn’t happen to flick to the right page of our passports. We were then made to pull over, surrounded by guards and told to empty our pockets, hand over the car keys and our phones and go into a little office where we would be finger printed, interviewed and charged $200 to apply for a visa waiver form which we didn’t need. When eventually they acknowledged the fact that we did have visas after all, we were free to go (after paying an additional $6 processing fee each). On our way out of the office one of the guards shouted “You need to repack!”, with the whites of eyes showing all around his pupils and little sweat beads on his face. I asked him what he meant by that, and he shouted it again in the exact same way. That’s when I looked over and saw that they had searched our car and dumped our large collection of instruments and luggage on the road, leaving us to repack everything ourselves. US customs officers are in their own bizarre world where bureaucratic drudgery meets theatrical drama.

Our first official gig in the states was in a pleasant, leafy town called Ann Arbor, about half an hour out of Detroit. The gig was well attended and full of dead quiet, but highly enthusiastic folk music fans. The next day we were taken to lunch at a famous deli called Zingerman’s – supposedly where Barack Obama eats when he visits Ann Arbor. It was good, but quite strange in a very American way – a bit like a sandwich theme park. Apparently they have revolutionised the typical business model in a variety of ways, which I won’t go into, but I will say that when you order your sandwiches, they ask whether you would like a “new pickle” or an “old pickle”, whatever that means – I had to fight back the urge to say, “I don’t want a pickle, I just wanna ride on my mo……..torsickle”.

That night we went in to check out Detroit with the objective of finding some hipster food and getting a load of some genuine Detroit dinge, both of which we found without having to search very far at all.

motor city

Hipster food and drink? Check.

detroit pose2

Dinge? Check. When we stumbled upon a crime scene near this steam vent, we knew it was time to pose! Work it, Lear!

The next stop was Nashville, Tennessee and I for one was keen to see if it lived up to it’s reputation in all those song lyrics. Nashville is a smallish city – a bit smaller than Perth, but it is packed full of musicians and music industry people. Our first port of call was to make a tourist stop at Third Man Records, Jack White’s quirky record store. It didn’t have many records, and much less CDs, but it did have heaps of cool novelties including a refurbished 1947 “Voice-o-Graph” machine that will record your voice and give it back to you in the form of a 6 inch phonograph disc. We bought our tokens and decided to do a take of Find The Cost Of Freedom – our favourite Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cover. I grabbed the complimentary Martin guitar and we all tried to squeeze in to the booth that was literally the size of a phone booth. Us Perchies are accustomed to being in close proximity to each other, but this was definitely the most squished we’ve ever been! We popped in our tokens, sung our hearts out then watched on through the glass pane as the Voice-o-Graph cut our little recording into a real piece of vinyl right before our eyes! As our shiny new record spat out of the little chute we consoled ourselves that while we may never be on Jack White’s record label, at least we feature on a genuine Third Man Records 6 inch.

Don’t believe me? Click on the link below to watch it in technicolour. (Technical note for the oldies: Once you click on the link, your computer will probably ask you whether you want to allow Quicktime to run – say “yes”. When the video is going you should click on the “full screen” icon on the bottom right corner of the video. When you’ve finished, you’ll want to click the “Back” icon on your browser to get back to this exciting and informative read)

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/49299856/Find%20the%20cost.mov

third man

Us posing outside yet another one of Jack White’s many quirky machines. They say that “awkward chic” is in, but I’m still waiting for “downright uncomfortable” to become trendy.

nashville cowgirl

Nashville is full of hot cowgirls, and here is a great piece of photographic evidence!

Our final gig of the tour was at City Winery, Nashville. It was fun, despite being very quiet, even for a band of out of towners, which was partly due to the fact (and I will happily point the blame here) that Nashville’s brand new Ascend Amphitheatre was having it’s grand opening that night with a sold out show by country music’s latest bad boy, Eric Church, whom we’d never heard of apart from driving past a fleet of semi trailers with his name all over them on our way to our humble sound check.

Eric-Church2

How could we compete with this guy?

After the gig we met up with our friend Alys, who recently moved to from Queensland to Nashville to be a full time songwriter. She told as all about it before taking us downtown to the global epicentre of country cheese – Nashville’s Broadway strip. It was like Tamworth on steroids! The whole strip was jam packed with bars, drunkenness, covers bands, tourists, buskers, neon, and a whole lot of Elvis statues. We only lasted about 20 minutes before catching an “Uber” back to our beds. The driver was really friendly and a cool guy, but the best part of it was, we totally blew his mind by telling him that it was currently winter in Australia – “What?! Winter?! IN JULY?!!”. We seek to educate as well as entertain, people.

That was Thursday night and the last time we slept in a bed until touching down in Australia on Sunday, arriving home to headlines about thousands of racist footy yobs booing an Aboriginal sportsman – what could be more Australian?

home baby

Who needs Nashville when you can come home to baby Nash Hodgkins? Especially when he’s dressed up as an additional member of DakhaBrakha!

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Canada 2015: Blog #3: Chilliwack, Folkies, and Culinary Curiosities

The start of this blog – much like the start of our days – begins with coffee. Since hipster coffee is such a rare commodity in these parts, we have been forced to set our rock star snobbery aside, put our feet back on the ground and settle for good ole Mom and Pop style cappuccinos with heads so big and foamy you can practically carve your name into them. cappucino Why do we punish ourselves with these bubble bath beverages? The answer can found by deciphering this table: caffeine

Traveling is a time for new experiences, but we were taken by surprise when we cooked up some home made garlic bread in our Air BnB apartment, and found that the garlic turned an unexpectedly vibrant blue colour while in the oven. We consulted Dr Google, and discovered that it’s a harmless reaction to copper, which may have been present in the grater we used (in lieu of a garlic crusher).

blue garlicBizarre, but no less delicious.

hairChristi’s famous hair shortly after consuming some blue garlic.

The layout and structure Vancouver Folk Festival was very similar to that of Winnipeg Folk Festival, and one thing that was particularly handy was the fact that they made sure all our gigs were listed on our lanyards, so even the most disorganised bass players or drunken folk musicians would never get confused about when and where they were supposed to be.

tag “If lost, or passed out, please return to this stage”

Vancouver Folk Festival was located in the ultra scenic Jericho Beach Park, a few k’s from downtown Vancouver.

crowdsCamilla assesses the lay of the land.

festival scenery Back in Winnipeg we met Rob – a guy who loved our music so much and was sufficiently charismatic to convince us to agree to do a house concert at his place, an hour out of Vancouver in a little place called Chilliwack – which, despite the fact that it sounds like a savoury snack item, is in fact, a town. So, fast forward to Vancouver Folk Festival, and straight after our first gig – a workshop with a great, upbeat band of New Yorkers called Matuto – a big pickup truck pulled up on the highway outside, and we loaded the gear and piled in. The truck was driven by a super nice, mad and chatty “Newfie” (Newfoundlander) guy named Wayne, who entertained us on the drive out to Chilliwack with his great Newfie accent (halfway between Irish and Canadian) and entertaining stories. mountain

We were impressed by this perennially snow capped mountain on the drive to Chilliwack.

Rob’s property out at Chilliwack was so quiet and peaceful it reminded us of Perch Creek. The peacefulness didn’t last long, as Wayne insisted on filling us up on “Newfie Screech” – a potent Newfoundland liquor. joe Joe Nolan also performed at the house concert – actually he was supposed to be the only performance, but we kinda crashed the gig… Luckily he was a cool guy and we had a great time hanging with Joe and his band. chilliwack

Nothing beats the smell of fresh hay while performing.

Everyone there was incredibly nice, including Rob who offloaded a couple of pairs of cowgirl boots that his wife and daughter refused to wear onto Eileen and Camilla.

rob bootsRob and Camilla – sporting her new cowgirl boots.

 performing rod mickleburgh Eileen rocking out back at the festival, also in brand new cowgirl boots gifted by Rob. Photographer: Rod Mickleburgh.

Just like the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Vancouver Folk Festival was all about the workshops – which involve throwing a bunch of different bands on stage together and seeing what happens. The first few we did had a slightly clunky feel, but the more of them we did, the more we got to see the potential for moments of magic and spontaneity. One such example was our workshop with the charismatic singer Pokey La Farge, who, as it happens, had lost his voice – but despite this we had a great time jamming with his band, which we were surprised to discover was led by our good friend TJ – a great trumpet player who we met and hung out with back in Edinburgh a few years back.

cd signingSwamped by fans at the Perch Creek CD signing…

  lear stoner Resting up after a very busy, but very enjoyable festival.

Remember in the last blog how I drummed up support for Camilla’s unpopular, but cutting edge foldable fashion hat? Well the blog reading community were very supportive, but the ultimate support came in the form of this lady (below) who was sporting the exact same hat! Neither one had ever seen another hat like theirs before and the bond was instant.

hats Fashion twins!

After the festival we hung out with a new friend, Furby, who gave us a little tour of Vancouver, which, we discovered, boasts 94 “medical” marijuana dispensaries – many of which can be spotted by big neon 7 pointed leaves. Apparently you can walk in, talk to a naturopath via Skype for 5 minutes and be given a script for the healing herb, and then walk out with a pocket full of the green stuff. In certain parts of the Downtown area you can smell marijuana smoke on every corner. There were quite a lot of homeless people getting around as well as quite a few “gutter kids”, which is a kind of modern day bohemian punk subculture who choose to live the street life, often accompanied by pet dogs. Furby showed us around a few local breweries before our final Vancouver post-festival gig at The Railway Club, which prompted a slightly cross-eyed Lear to blurt out on the microphone “I’m starting to question the wisdom of going on a brewery tourery before a gig!”

furby Moustachioed Furby and the rest of the gang on the first stop of our “brewery tourery”.

Stay tuned for whatever is going to happen next!

Visas, Vancouver and Very Large Suitcases

With the Winnipeg Folk Festival all done and dusted, we had a few days off with nothing much to do except chill at the hotel room, explore the fruits of Winnipeg and sort out some business. One great thing about being a touring musician, is that every little mundane thing that you do, becomes interesting if done on the road. Nobody cares how we wash our undies at home, but life on the road still holds a certain mystique. Take this faux vintage photo of Laundry Man Lear for example:

laundromat

Aren’t you dying to know what odorous but incredibly exotic and fashionable items may be concealed within those laundry bags?

While Lear and Eileen were off doing the washing, Camilla and I decided to explore the fruits of Winnipeg. All the locals we spoke to consistently recommended The Forks as well as the the newly built Museum of Human Rights, so we dutifully put on our tourist hats and went for a stroll. The Forks was a little underwhelming – just a fork in the river with a tacky food court that looked like it belonged in the early 90s (actually nearly everything in Winnipeg looked like it belonged in the early 90s). Then we decided to check out the Museum of Human Rights – a colossal and architecturally ostentatious $350,000,000 building situated right next to The Forks, but were turned off when we realised that it cost all of $15 to enter – what about the right to free museum entry? Outraged, we returned to our plush hotel room and exercised our right to be cynical and self indulgent musicians.

With our laundry all clean and crispy our next logistical problem was the fact that we had to get all our 18 bags to Vancouver, preferably without paying the $875 baggage fees we would be up against. The stripey bag system was out, but – never ones to give up – we had a brand new plan. We located a nearby hockey supplies shop and purchased two massive goalie bags – each one big enough to hold a whole bunch of guitars, drums, CD boxes, trombones etc…

goalie bags

Behold the goalie bags! They weren’t cheap, but in one flight they saved us about $700!

After touching down and disembarking in Vancouver with a satisfied feeling in our hip pockets, we were struck with the smell of clean ocean air. In direct contrast with Winnipeg, Vancouver was ultra modern, trendy, and incredibly scenic. The scenery reminded us of Hobart, but times ten. Huge mountains, beautiful bays and literally 10 times the population of little old Hobart. Our accommodation was at the UBC campus, which is like a small city in itself, and like most of Vancouver, has beautiful mountain and ocean views. It was fairly far out of town, but by happy coincidence turned out to be just a 10 minute walk to the UBC radio station where we had an interview booked.

I know we talked about taking care of business in Winnipeg – doing the laundry and buying sports bags etc – important things, yes, but in Vancouver we had some real business. Some of you may be aware that we have a couple of shows booked in the States. Some of you may not have been aware that with only two weeks before our US shows we still didn’t have any US visas! Let’s backtrack a little, back to the Perch Creek headquarters in Melbourne during the wintry weeks leading up to our departure…

Everyone knows that getting US visas can be a tricky business – that’s why we allowed heaps of time. The details are mind-numbingly boring, but let me say that allowing “heaps of time” is not nearly enough. Especially when you log onto the US government travel site and find out the US government is unable to print any visas for anyone, anywhere for an indefinite period of time…

visa gov

The visa type we were applying for was called P1 “Internationally Recognized Alien” – they didn’t ask us anything about what we got up to on Mars, but they did ask some very direct questions about our activities on Earth, including whether or not we had ever forcibly sterilised anyone, stolen any organs from anybody or ever committed genocide. I can’t reveal what our answers to those questions were, but you’ll just have to trust us, OK?

Fast forward many thousands of dollars in fees etc, many late nights trying to get through to overseas consulates, and several weeks of accelerated ageing, and we had to accept that we did not have enough time to book an appointment in Melbourne and would have to try for Vancouver against the advice of our hired independent visa application agent, and despite the fact that Canadian consulates had been known to refuse to process non-Canadians. I won’t tell you exactly what we had to say in order to secure timely appointments in the Vancouver US consulate, but I will say that we fully expected to be cross questioned and subsequently turned away when the truth of our residential status was revealed.

Fast forward again to Vancouver and we are joining the long queue outside the US consulate to receive the first of many security checks. They confiscated our phones and other “suspicious” items to store in a little locker, but the lockers were tiny and our confiscated laptop wasn’t going to fit. The security officer refused to take the laptop, refused to let us in with it, and firmly declined to offer any suggestions as to what we should do with our cumbersome piece of security-compromising technology. After running up and down the street asking all the nearby cafes if they would hold on to our laptop for us (we promise it’s not a bomb!) and being denied, we were beginning to worry that we’d miss our appointment. Eventually we found a sandwich bar called Quizno’s Subs who were obviously in the habit of making a few bucks on the side from this exact situation, charging us $10 to mind the laptop, which we gladly paid before running back to join the security line once again. After making it past that checkpoint we then went through another round of airport style security checks before lining up for document stamps, finger prints and questions at line A, then line B, then line C, then finally line D, which was labelled simply and starkly “20th Floor”, which to our eyes had an ominous ring to it, reminiscent of something from Orwell’s 1984.

Once on The 20th Floor, we sat in a crowded waiting room listening to the many voices that were emanating from behind the booths stretching along the halls on both sides of the waiting room. The atmosphere was tense. We sat there listening to rejection after rejection and emotionally charged pleas from desperate interviewees. We overheard far fetched stories about long lost American relatives, we overheard desperate people getting caught out giving false answers, and we overheard someone being told the exact words that we were dreading, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’ll have to come back when you can prove that you are a permanent resident of Canada and not just some tourist”. Whatever sense of hopefulness all the document stamping had given us down on the second floor evaporated at the sound of those words, and we were left with a dull sense of the acceptance of the inevitable, grateful at least for the fact that we weren’t in as dire a situation as the other rejectees. When our number was called we trudged up to the counter to go through the motions. I was deemed the head talker because, despite my long and fluid blogging style (if I do say so myself), those of you who’ve heard me on radio interviews know that my verbal style is flat, short and concise – just the qualities needed for a successful bureaucratic interview! The consular agent was friendly and seemed convinced that we were legitimate muso’s (sometimes all that long hair comes in handy), and that we were in Canada for legitimate work. Then after a few more questions he handed us a green slip and told us we were all good to go, to which we responded by standing dumbstruck, fighting back grins and trying not to act too surprised.

quiznos

Celebrating our visa approval after retrieving our laptop from our good buddies, Quizno’s Subs.

To unwind after a tense morning, we hired bikes and rode around Vancouver’s iconic and ultra scenic Stanley Park – a forested peninsula adjoined to the CBD. It was so beautiful!

stanley park bridge

You have no idea how many shots it took to perfect the uber trendy “awkward look”.

stanley park bikes

Looking cool in our matching electric blue helmets.

stanley beach

The beaches in Vancouver come with evenly placed logs for sitting on, which miraculously don’t get swept away by the tides.

Stay tuned to hear about our gigs at the Vancouver Folk Festival and more!

Canada 2015 Blog #1: Bye Bye, Vegemite – Hello, Winnipeg!

brisbane

Leaving from Brisbane airport we met up with Lenny, Bob and Rob where we played a farewell game of 500 while Lenny gave us the lowdown on the Greek economic crisis and the price of Lamborghinis.

About 10 hours from Brisbane an announcement suddenly came over the loudspeaker announcing that we have entered American airspace so we now have to comply with their somewhat bizarre anti-terror law which states that no more than 2 people are permitted to queue for the toilet at a time. Strange but true – apparently terrorists have weak bladders…

“Coming in to Los Angeles, Bringing in a couple of keys, Don’t touch my bags if you please, Mister customs man”… Arlo Guthrie’s lyrics are going through our heads as we descend into LAX airport, hoping that the officials there were as lax as the airport acronym would imply. Thankfully though, the only “keys” that we are bringing in is Camilla’s shiny red Nord keyboard, and we have nothing to worry about, unless the border security decide that we will perform during our one night stop over then sneak off with their precious greenback dollars (They actually believe that musicians make money?!).
After getting through customs Hollywood was our oyster for a night! Except that we never left the LA hotel… Why leave when the hotel offers unlimited access to a complimentary cheese machine?

cheese machine

“Mmm, cheesey!”

After getting some much needed sleep we were ready to tackle the next leg of our flight – LA to Minneapolis. Being spoilt rotten by Virgin Australia with our gold and platinum frequent flyer status as well as their ultra generous musician’s baggage allowance, it came as a shock when the lady at Delta Airlines tried to charge us USD$150 per extra bag, of which we had 8. After a quick reshuffle, we worked it down to 5 extra bags, but we were damned if we were going to hand them more than a thousand Aussie dollars to fly a few measly bags. Actually, we had read on Delta’s website that you are only charged $35 per extra item, so we pulled out our smartphones and showed the lady at the desk, whose repeated response was “I just don’t read it that way!”. In desperation we whipped out some $2 stripy bags, string and tape and proceeded to package several items together as one big, ugly parcel, but again we were thwarted. In the US security is a big deal, and a high percentage of bags get opened up and inspected, and since our hideous Frankenstein parcels were not easily resealable, we ran the risk of the parcel coming apart and us losing our gear, which was a risk that the airline (understandably) was not prepared to take. So with our heads hung low, we proceeded to undo the wrapping we had started. If only the string and sticky tape could repair our damaged egos! Eventually, the supervisor came and we managed to convince them to only charge us about $70 in excess baggage, making it easy on the wallet, at least.

If we weren’t already feeling like foreigners in a strange and harsh land, the final insult came when we went through security and in what seemed like a cruel symbolic gesture, we were made to throw out our tube of Vegemite!

Fighting back tears we boarded our plane for Minneapolis, before changing again and hopping on a tiny little plane for the final leg to Winnipeg, Canada.
little plane
Wait, I thought the red pill made me smaller, not bigger!

We were there to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, but first we had some business to take care of.  Stumbling out of the hotel, we popped on our rock star sunnies and went out to grab a quick coffee to help us with our jet lag (and – let’s be honest – feed our undeniable caffeine addiction). The thing is that there is a translation problem, for the word “coffee” in Melbourne, means something completely different in Winnipeg. In the end we walked about 3 kilometres through the mid summer heat (turning our noses up at countless Starbucks and Tim Horton’s on the way) before finally reaching a sufficiently hipster coffee joint.

coffee trek
“Give me hipster coffee, or give me death!”

The artists were all staying in a big hotel in downtown Winnipeg , but the festival was held out of town in a beautiful, grassy and partially forested area, with camping for the punters. It would have been nice to camp at the festival to have a more inclusive experience, but the comfort of the plush hotel was nothing to complain about. The festival comprised mostly of “workshops”, which are nothing like the workshops we have at Australian folk festivals, where artists teach techniques or tricks of the trade. In Canada, a workshop is when you get three or four bands/artists, give them some kind of semi-abstract conceptual theme, throw them on stage together and see what happens. What does happen is sometimes awkward, sometimes sublime and the audience seem to love it either way. One of our workshops was with a band from way up north in Nanavut who sang songs about life in the far north including eating seal meat. They featured a woman doing traditional throat singing, and in a fit of “talent jealousy” we vowed to send Eileen up to Nanavut to learn the guttural singing technique. Or maybe we just want an excuse to send Eileen to Nanavut… Another workshop we were in was entitled “We come from a land down under”, featured four Aussie acts plus Marlon Williams, who can’t seem to decide whether he’s from New Zealand or from Melbourne…

polaroid

The only thing more hipster than an Instagram filter is an actual Polaroid. PS Camilla copped a lot of flack from other band members about the hat choice in this one, so feel free to send in your messages of support!
money fingers
“Money fingers”. Lear uses super glue to attach an assortment of coins to the end tips of his leather golf gloves to make some blinged up washboard gloves.

The days were long and the weather was nice and hot and the grounds were populated by heaps of dragonflies, whom I discovered were bred specifically to be released during the festival to control the mosquitos. It was a very eco friendly festival, and anything eco friendly is always great after spending a lot of time on aeroplanes with all their tiny little plastic cups and little plastic spoons and little snacks wrapped in plastic and little plastic water containers – not to mention the fuel…. Everywhere there was reusable this, recyclable this and compostable the other – only they don’t say “compost” in Canada, they say “calm post” (with a long “o” sound). In fact, the festival was so damn eco friendly that at one of the complimentary crew dinners, they served up cricket chutney – which sounded innocent enough until I realised they don’t play cricket in Canada…  then I looked closer at my plate:

cricket1
Yikes – cricket chutney! No, it’s not a Canadian staple, just the result of having an eccentric chef on the volunteer cooking team. In the name of journalism, I ate the entire serving and can only report that they taste pretty much how you’d expect crickets to taste….

shower
Did I say the weather was hot? It’s hard to imagine that it can get to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter here.

One great thing about playing festivals is you get to see all the friends that you never see because they are always touring and so are you. We were pleased to meet up with mad cello goblin Rushad Eggleston and Mouse Princess, the eccentric and lovable Steve Poltz, Marlon Williams and Daniel Champagne to name a few.
rushad
Old friends: Perch Creek chillin’ with Rushad at the hotel lobby.

blind boy

New friends: Cowgirl Camilla, Blind Boy Paxton and Rubberfoot Hodgkins.
Musically, the festival had some great acts, including Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (voted festival favourite by us), Jose Gonzalez, Arlo Guthrie (who happened to sing “Coming Into Los Angeles”) as well as heaps of new discoveries. My personal highlight was seeing Rushad Eggleston in a workshop leading a group of very talented and slightly confused musicians in an ecstatic rendition of his song “I peed on a bird”.

The festival ended dramatically when dark clouds blew in before dropping torrential rain, thunder, lightning and general chaos just as the final headliner Wilco started the third and what turned out to be their final song.
storm
This could almost be two different photos stitched together, but is in fact one big panorama taken by Lear.

Next stop, Vancouver Folk Festival – stay tuned, readers!

Dazzled In Dubai

So, Perch Creek are in Dubai… It was supposed to be a secret, but this journalist knows that the truth needs to find it’s way through the diamond studded curtain… Read on!

When we first got the call from the people at the Dubai based entertainment agency, we thought it might be a hoax, but after some more correspondence it seemed like it was the real deal. Being such a last minute arrangement, we handed in all our paper work a week before leaving time only to find out that Eileen and Christi’s passports were about to expire and had to be renewed before we would be allowed in to the UAE. We now give our sincere thanks to whichever bureaucrat came up with the concept of “express passport processing”.

Our only prior experience with Dubai was when we had a one-day stopover here on our first Europe trip. We stumbled out of the hotel, red-eyed and dazed into 46 degree desert heat. After wandering around some random streets for about fifteen minutes with absolutely no sign of any life (not even a blade of grass) and one failed attempt to catch a train, it was all too much for us and we went back to collapse into our hotel bed. Our expectations this time couldn’t be lower, but that’s not always a bad thing.

After a relatively easy flight we arrived at a comfortable hotel in Bur Dubai. At first we thought we had arrived in the Indian district, but we quickly realised (and a quick Wikipedia search confirmed) that over 50% of Dubai is inhabited by Indians and when you combine the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan population (I’m sure these diverse groups just love being lumped all together by an ignorant Westerner) you make up over 75% of the Dubai population, with Emirati making up only 17%. Combine that with the fact that Dubai is a major tourist town and you find that true locals are few and far between.

Our gigs were all at WAFI Mall as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival – hardly the epitome of cool status we are trying to maintain back in Melbourne (now you know why it was supposed to be a secret!). WAFI Mall is themed around Ancient Egypt, with pyramids and Sphinxes everywhere, but despite the massive effort put in to the exterior decor the mall itself is always eerily quiet. This is partly due to the fact that it is generally extremely expensive and that compared with the mind-boggling opulence of the ultra-modern Dubai Mall (The largest shopping mall in the world), WAFI looks a little half baked and dated. However, WAFI is the preferred shopping place of Dubai’s royal family who like to keep away from the crowds. There is a sign out the front forbidding “Kissing and overt displays of affection”. The other guys were relieved that Camilla and I had to adhere to that one.
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WAFI Mall: Not as happening as it once was…

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…until Perch Creek got the party started! This great photo is courtesy of a friendly, eccentric and unfortunately anonymous Japanese guy who was kind enough to give us his photos.

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It’s just not a Perch Creek gig unless someone has forgotten something. Luckily, a pencil and a hair tie make for a fine capo.
All our transport to and from the venue was pre organised with a private minibus driver and we were able to leave all our gear on the stage for the whole time. The roads are wide, vast and full of very fast and exceptionally bad driving, all in glitzy four wheel drives. Fuel here is 1.5 dirhams per litre (about 45 cents), and a taxi driver told us that in neighbouring Saudi Arabia fuel is a third of the price as Dubai (like 15 cents/L!).

We met some street musicians from Toronto called The Sidewalk Crusaders (who incidentally had to change their name while in Dubai to the less revolutionary but somewhat inert name of “The Sidewalk Musicians”) who gave us their “hop-on hop-off” bus tour tickets, so the next day we decided to give them a whirl. There were only 4 tickets so we were going to buy a fifth ticket – but when we found out the outrageous price, we decided to enhance the enjoyment of the bus ride with the thrill of sneaking an extra person on. The bus ride took us around the old part of town where we were fascinated to see dhows (traditional Arabic boats) still in use for small scale importing and exporting. The dows are beautiful, old boats made primarily of wood, with blue rendering on the cabins. It was bizarre to see them load up with cargos of brand new fridges and set sail across the Arabian Sea with a crew of a handful of people.

I’m not really into consumerism and glitz is not really my scene, but when I saw Dubai Mall I couldn’t help but be impressed and excited by the sheer opulance and unabashed glitteriness of it all. At the mall there are many tourist attractions, including a massive fish tank packed full with all kinds of exotic rays (including a leopard print ray), a multitude of sharks and copious amounts of diverse fish. We also saw the “musical fountain”, which was really beautiful even though we had to look at it through a wall of people holding their mobile devices up in the air. Such is modern tourism. The fountain was near the base of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world, which towers above the Dubai skyline and, like most things in Dubai, glitters prettily at night. We tried to buy a ticket to go to up the Burj Kahlifa to a place called “At The Top”, but were turned off when we discovered that you had to book three days in advance and that “At The Top” was only halfway up, and not cheap either.

So, at this point you must be thinking “yeah, yeah, but we wanna see more pictures” and my only response is to turn slightly red, look to the ground and mutter something about accidentally deleting nearly every photo from my unbacked-up iPhone, while trying to transfer them to my computer… Oops! Always back up, kiddies. Luckily, we were given a bunch of photos by a friendly and eccentric Japanese photographer whom no-one caught the name of. It may be of some comfort to readers to know that my photos were all terrible anyway.

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There is something compelling about this awkward portrait. Christi’s poise makes me think of an early blues musician who’s never seen a camera before.

Is Dubai sickeningly consumeristic? Absolutely. In my younger years I would have been far too repulsed to even consider enjoying the fruits of glitter town, but I’m mellow enough now to enjoy it for what it is while we are here. It’s a pretty fun place to be rich in, but it’s not as glamorous for the majority of people here who all seem to share the same story – coming here to work menial and lonely jobs to make enough money to send back to their families back in Pakistan or Iran, or wherever. From what I can tell, it seems that Dubai has a distinct class divide between the workers – who are almost entirely foreign and working in Dubai by choice, and the wealthy – which includes locals and tourists.
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Only in Dubai: Camilla posing for her sugar daddy inside a giant diamond shoe.
I could be wrong, but I get the impression that caring about recycling, green energy, fair trade or anything like that is not really in fashion, and I also notice a total lack of any bohemian subculture of any kind. I saw one shop on a busy strip called “Moral Trading Co”. It was out of business with a “For Lease” sign on the window. The UAE is one of the driest countries on the planet (120mm of rain/year) but it uses more water per capita than any other country. Most of their water comes from pumping out an ever depleting ground water supply and the rest comes from desalination. Oil represents only 6% of the UAEs revenue.

moral trading

Morally bankrupt?

Is Dubai full of strict rules and regulations? Yes, but not all of them are enforced as strictly as you’d think. The dress code is part of the criminal law system and forbids sleeveless tops and short skirts, although we see quite a lot of both those items. The drug rules are very heavy as well – which surely shouldn’t affect innocent people like us, you may say, except that Eileen unknowingly risked 4 years imprisonment by traveling with a pack of pain killers that contain the prohibited drug codeine. The Dubai airport also has scanners that can detect drugs in the bloodstream, and some travellers have been gaoled for having trace amounts of illegal drugs in the pocket lint or stuck to the soles of their shoes. There are other rules too. We got told off for playing cards in public (you should see our shiny gold pack of Dubai playing cards!) as gambling is illegal in Muslim states. Our set times also had to change to accommodate for prayer times that occur several times a day signified by a voice singing beautiful Arabic melodies that resonated through the mall. The prayer times were always at a slightly different time of day depending on the position of the moon and one time we accidentally kicked into the start of Party On The Farm before being shouted at to stop because prayer time wasn’t over. Cultural sensitivity has never been our strong point…

The United Arab Emirates is a union of emirates – an emirate being a place ruled over by an emir. The ruler of the emirate of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum whose face is on billboards and shop windows all around this place sporting an ostentatious scowl lending him a distinct resemblance to Lord Farquaad from the Shrek movie. My initial reaction to seeing his face everywhere and knowing that he inherited power through the monarchy system puts me on high “fascist dictator alert”, but all evidence points to him being a fair and respected leader of an extremely well-organised and forward thinking city. Dubai is different to most other places in the world in that nobody has to pay any income tax and sales tax is limited to cigarettes, alcohol, hotel and restaurant services. Sheikh Mohammed has written a book about his quest to realise his vision for the greatness of Dubai and maybe I am a sucker for propaganda, but he seems like a good guy – which is more than we can say for our home grown hero Tony Abbott. Sheikh Mohammed is also a poet, humanitarian and anti-corruption crusader as well as being responsible for launching the Emirates airline. Thank God Tony Abbott doesn’t write poetry!

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I like this guy!

We took advantage of some down time by doing a bit of rehearsing and writing in our hotel room and even recorded a demo of a new song of ours thanks to my hand held audio interface and Garageband.

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Forget decor, it’s amazing how much you can make a hotel room feel like home just by scattering a few instruments around.
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It’s amazing how good a breakfast hummus and salad makes. The hotel had a truly multicultural breakfast buffet with a large variety of Indian, Middle Eastern and Western breakfasts, including a dish called “foul madames”, which I initially assumed was a French dish which translated to “dirty women”, but it turns out it’s a delicious middle eastern bean stew.
We had to spend a lot of time sitting around between sets and WAFI Mall was a pretty boring place to kill time, but downstairs the “souk” was a little more interesting. It was a traditional Arab style market place with a lot of interesting traditional outfits and knick knacks. If you spent half an hour haggling with the stall holders you could get an OK price, too. Later we ate dinner down at the souk with hummus, veges and freshly baked pita bread, topped off with an after dinner grape flavoured shisha. We passed the sweet and fragrant shisha pipe around between us to the amusement of local onlookers. Camilla embarrassed us all by having a minor coughing fit, while Christi seemed to have an unexplainable aptitude for smoking the exotic water pipe…

While we were sitting around pretending to know how to smoke, one of the wait staff appeared with a grin holding up an Arabic newspaper with a big picture of us in it. I have no idea what the article was about but I’m sure it said that we were fabulous. The photo was of us performing Find The Cost Of Freedom upstairs at the mall – it’s a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover that we have taken to doing lately, featuring yours truly on “drop C” guitar and Eileen bowing the double bass.

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This wasn’t the actual photo used, but this is us doing Find The Cost Of Freedom.

Being a Muslim town, drinking in public is illegal and take-away alcohol appears to be non-existent, but licenced bars, while not in abundance, exist here nevertheless, and while Dubai may seem a bit prudish to us hedonistic Westerners, it is actually a major centre for partying in the Middle East. Our artist liason guy, Joel, recommended to us a place called Stables Bar and told us that we “can’t waste [our] Thursday night” so we thought we’d give Dubai night life a crack. As Friday is the Islamic holy day, weekends in Arab countries are usually Thursday and Friday, but symbolic of the UAE’s status as a western-friendly place they have adopted a Friday-Saturday weekend to fit in better with Western trading hours, hence Thursday night being part night in Dubai.

Walking in, the suffocating smell of indoor smoking hit us sheltered smoke-free Aussies pretty hard, but we thought we’d just stay for one drink. Then Joel turned up and suddenly “one drink” changed it’s meaning somewhat… The bar was full of expats from various parts of the world and probably a few tourists too. Upstairs at the bar they had a bucking bull ride in the middle of the room that you could go on free of charge if you dared. We all had a go, but Lear really rode that thing and earned himself the biggest cheer of the night when he finally was thrown off. At this point you should all feel relieved that I deleted all my photos because the photo of Lear on the bull with wild red eyes surrounded by cheering drunks was a little disturbing, if not incriminating… We were all very popular at the bar due to our colourful appearance, and (I didn’t think of it at the time, but…) the fact that we were wearing vintage clothing made us look completely unlike everybody else in Dubai.

Camilla and I snuck out to Jumeira Public Beach for a hangover curing dip in the salty but beautifully blue Persian Gulf. In a town where everything is man-made, it was nice to soak up some natural beauty.

After our gig that night we hopped in a cab to Dubai Mall to go ice skating – you can do anything and buy anything at Dubai Mall – actually, almost anything. You can’t go skiing or buy a dinosaur. However, they do have a real 80 foot long Diplodocus at Dubai Mall, but you can’t buy it, and if you want to go skiing, you have to suffer the inconvenience of crossing town to the Emirates Mall. The dinosaur is the most complete Diplodocus skeleton in the world and was a 25 year-old vegetarian female, which means that she probably wouldn’t have had any trouble finding a good dinosaur share house back in the Jurassic Age…
dubai dino

A lovely pair of vegetarian females.
Anyway, ice skating was a hoot, and we were all swanning about like characters from Blades Of Glory. We were doing so well we started to consider putting on a “Perch Creek On Ice” stage show – until disaster struck. A little kid crashed right into Eileen which set off a chain reaction of catastrophic results climaxing with Lear falling straight onto his head onto the hard, rough ice. One bloody face and shirt, a quick bandage and a “head injury release form” later, we were all safely back in the cab home. Lear’s face was pretty messed up, but thankfully there’s the Jumeirah strip with dozens of world class plastic surgeries just a stone’s throw away, so we promise that if he doesn’t come out all good, we’ll get him fixed up as good as new before we take him home – in fact, he might even come home looking even better than he did before!

head injury

Adrenalin in the veins, blood on the shirt and head injury release form in hand, Lear looks cool as a cucumber…

I’ve never seen anyone wearing an abaya (white gown worn by Arabic men) at an ice rink before, so to my eyes it was bizarre and beautiful to see all the people in their desert outfits gracefully gliding across the glacial surface with ice skates replacing their traditional sandals.

Some random observations made in a Dubai supermarket:

I have always dreamt of a civilisation where packets of mixed nuts must include a mandatory “percentage of peanuts” clearly listed on the packet, so you could imagine my feeling of justice served when I spied a pack of mixed nuts boldly confessing “contains 50% peanuts”. I appreciated their honesty, but frankly, 50% peanuts is not good enough for me. I think we should definitely introduce peanut regulations in Australia. Tony Abbot should appoint himself Minister For Mixed Nuts and let someone else take over as Minister For Women. It would be a win-win situation, for sure.

There was cheese flavoured ice cream. At first I thought it must mean cheesecake flavour, but when I turned the tub over, I saw that the third ingredient was 8% processed cheese. Yumm!

That’s it for now. It’s been fun but after a week we are ready to head home – only that we aren’t heading home just yet, we have 41 hours of transit ahead of us that will see us arriving in Tamworth approximately 20 minutes before our sound check on Wednesday. I promise we’ll put on a good show, but donations of caffeine rich beverages will definitely be accepted.

I will leave you now with a video of WAFI mall being robbed…. by a group of guys in a Morris mini, and a very dramatic promotional video put together for us by Joel, our artist liason dude.

Til next time!

Blog #12: Toronto Times

I ended the previous blog with the conveniently conclusive statement “that’s the UK all wrapped up”, but actually it was midnight and we still had 90% of our packing to do before our alarms go off at 4am. On our original flight at the start of he tour from Melbourne to Hamburg, we got masses of free luggage due to our hard earned frequent flier points, but for these Canada flights, it made more sense to go with budget airlines. At least, it made more sense at the time we booked them, but it didn’t make quite so much sense in the wee hours of the morning when we realised that we were hopelessly overloaded with luggage. There was a time in the not too distant past when we weren’t pampered Velocity Members, and the experience we gained squeezing the most out of Tiger Airways all those times equipped us with a life long skill set that kicked into action like an automated survival response from deep in our cerebellums. Out came my ultra geeky Microsoft Excel luggage allowance spreadsheet, that I have been refining over the years. There is a column for each traveler, and rows for every conceivable luggage related parameter. We weigh all our bags with a set of £2 portable luggage scales, then divvy them out on the spreadsheet, which automatically calculates how much weight allowance is left over for each person. It is genius, and frankly, I’m proud of it. I would turn it into an iPhone app and try to sell it, but I know all too well that the type of person who would need it would invariably be DIY cheapskates like me who’d rather spend hours on their own elaborate spreadsheet rather than spend $1.99 on a decent app.

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Weight was one thing, but there was also the problem of the number of bag. We were allowed 8 check-in bags between the 4 remaining band members, we had a total of 13. This problem alone would have cost us €1,620 worth of excess baggage fees – this is not an exaggeration (apparently I have a reputation…). No problem is too big for a couple of rolls of heavy duty Gaffa tape, so we literally taped together the banjo, guitar and trombone into one big ugly, awkward item, and did a similar thing with just about all our bags. The trick is to tie them with rope first, with same tape to keep it from slipping, then cover the whole thing in a $2 stripy bag or two, followed by more tape. God, we are pathetic. Even a geeky spreadsheet can’t defy the laws of physics, so we were still over weight, thus bringing in the “Grace of God” factor, which in atheist terms translates to “Ability to Charm Airline Staff” factor.

IMG_0846.JPGThe luggage “thing” may look like a monstrosity, but it fits the weight criterion to the gram.

We all took different flights to Toronto and Camilla and I went with IcelandAir, who took full advantage of their captive audience by saturating us with full immersion Icelandic tourism propaganda – even the food wrapping was covered in tourism tidbits. Luckily we were lapping it up and when we spied out the plane window the starkly beautiful scenery around the exotic Reykjavik airport, we were completely sold.

Meeting up red-eyed in Toronto airport, we piled our mountain of junk into a pair of Hummer-esque maxi taxis and headed to the plush hotel supplied by the festival.

When we finally decommissioned Camilla’s old green $5 “dump” keyboard about 6 months ago, replacing it with a state-of-the-art, bright red Nord, we knew that never again would we have to open up a keyboard and tinker with it’s insides. That was meant to be a relief, but it was actually a secret disappointment for a certain geeky bass player, so you can imagine my excitement upon discovering a sneaky way to convert the Nord’s internal power supply from accepting 230V to 115V, enabling you to plug straight in to an American power point without an expensive and bulky transformer.

IMG_0851.JPGVoiding a warranty has never been this much fun! The most ingenious part was fashioning a small spring out of a tightly wound guitar string to hold the new fuse in place – my McGyver moment.

We were there to play at Toronto Scotiabank Buskerfest, but we were told that we wouldn’t actually be busking and that there would be proper stages with professional sound systems for us to play on. Some people really know how to tell us exactly what we want to hear… The reality was a little more humbling, and required a little more hard work from us. These days we like to act hard-done-by if we are expected to play for more than one and a half hours, so we had to reconsider our rock star status when we learned that one of our slots was 8 hours long. Yikes. Luckily, you sell a lot of merch here, and the more you play, the more you sell, so we swallowed our pride and worked the streets, just like the good old days.

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IMG_0859.JPGLear doing a little media promo. I have no idea why he is grinning and rubbing his hands like it’s Christmas Day…

The hotel we got was nice, but we spent most of our time at the slightly more odorous Buskerfest green room in a building with the somewhat imposing name of The Fraternal Order Of Eagles Club*. The green room was never boring, with a constant stream of wildly eccentric buskers coming in and out wearing weird and wonderful costumes, practising their tricks and sharing their road stories.

*Originally started by a league of theatre owners, with past members including a who’s who of notable US presidents. At one point entry requirements was “to be 21 years of age, possess a good character, not be a Communist, and be a Caucasian”.

The festival was hard work and at the end of each day most of us retired quietly to bed, but Camilla, usually the grandma of the bunch, took it upon herself to show the other performers that Perch Creek know how to party. She stayed up late playing shuffle board and pool as well as various other games designed to ensure the participants remain plentifully hydrated with all sorts of outlandish characters, including a Dr Spock dead ringer. In an ideal world she would have pulled out her phone and taken a happy snap with Doc Spock, but in reality she insists that she doesn’t need a smartphone and that she is perfectly happy with “mental snaps”. So here I will include a space for you to create your own mental snap of Camilla smiling with Dr Spock at the pool table.

~

We didn’t fly with a tap-board, so it was up to Eileen to source one locally, but after walking around the block once and failing to stumble upon a discarded tap-board, Toronto was deemed a tap-board free city. Despite the complete absence of wooden boards at ground level, we did notice some scaffolding, which, if scaled, could provide a great surface for tap dancing, as well as a vantage point over Yonge St. The crowd held their breath as Eileen ascending the scaffolding during the Carper Catinach break down in pursuit of a rich tapping tone.

IMG_0971-0.JPG“Look, Mum – no hands!!”

The excitement of the scaffolding climb even caused me to momentarily forget the fact that I was sick and wretched. The first and last thing I ate in Toronto was some “Mexican Chicken” that was a little more Mexican than I had bargained for, and for the whole rest of the weekend I was nauseous, aching, drained (literally) and miserable. I had chosen to put on a brave face and fulfil my band duties the best I could without complaining too much, but my inability to appear enthused on stage or off was cause for criticism, and my popularity hit an all time low. It was a PR disaster, but I learned from it. Next time I fall ill I will make a much bigger deal of it, try to get admitted to hospital and then go to the gigs in a wheelchair and hospital gown, pulling round an intravenous drip on a stand. My perseverance and unwavering commitment to the show would be applauded and I’d be a hero regardless of whether I cracked a smile or not.

IMG_0975.JPGFour smiling people and one person trying not to look nauseous. Poor me!!

Since we have now inadvertently landed on the topic of gastrointestinal problems, I think it’s a good time to mention that toilets in North America have the best and most exciting flush we have experienced to date – hands down. It may not be very eco-friendly, but the problems of water conservation seem a million miles away when you are captivated by that miraculous, whooshing whirlpool of water.

Back at the hotel room, Rob and Eileen were trying to cancel Eileen’s flight home, so she could stay an extra month in America with Rob. Expedia are not known for their customer service skills, and the Skype connection kept cutting out. After three frustrating hours of communication failures, it transpired that they had finally managed to successfully cancel the flight, with the Expedia employee proudly stating that “Christi Hodgkins’ flight has now been cancelled. Would that be all?”. Oh, dear. After literally six more stressful hours on Skype, and a couple of day’s waiting, the problem was finally resolved with Christi’s flight restored and Eileen’s cancelled.

We had managed to get around on foot during the festival, but know it was over, we needed a set of wheels. Unlike Europe and the UK, the cars in North America are notably different to those in Australia – it would appear that the laws around feeding growth hormones to vehicles are a lot more lax here. The vehicle we hired was a Ford E-Series 15 seat monster.

It may interest readers to know that Camilla is in fact, a “big car girl”. She is more than happy getting around on a cute little bike with a cute little bell and a cute little basket full of carbon neutral groceries, but when she gets behind the wheel, it’s gotta be a mean machine.

IMG_0972-0.JPG“Vroom! Vrooom!!”

We had one last big show coming up, but first a few relaxing rest days. Camilla and I got a head start on meeting all my long list relatives by staying with my mother’s cousin Vanessa and her husband Matthew, which was great.

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IMG_0966.JPGWhen I’m not playing music for a living, I like to unwind by, uh, playing music.

On the Wednesday after the festival we finally had a proper show at an iconic Toronto venue called the Horseshoe Tavern, which we had been promoting all weekend on the street. It was a three act show comprised of us, and our Aussie friends Daniel Champagne and The Bearded Gypsy Band, and it was a blast to play our last official show of the tour with those guys.

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IMG_0977.JPG“See ya later, Toronto!” Eileen pulls off a move she learned from Elvis Presley. The two photos above courtesy of Patrick Lemieux (https://www.facebook.com/PatrickLemieuxArtist)

Thus concludes the second last blog episode for this tour – I’m getting all sentimental! The next and final chapter details our adventures in the US of A – see you then!

Europe Blog #11: The UK All Wrapped Up

Before I start on the latest happenings I need to tie up one little loose end. I meant to finish the previous blog episode with an uplifting morale for the benefit of the children, but I forgot. So if your kids grow up shallow and devoid of morale substance, I accept full (non-legally binding) responsibility. I will attempt to rectify the aforementioned oversight now… You will no doubt remember my mention of the avid fan at Nottingham whom we encouraged never to give up the Google Maps search for the elusive Perch Creek? Well, he was there again at Sheffield and with a beaming smile and thick Yorkshire accent informed us that his search was finally over – not only that, but he had located the actual property of our origin using Google street view, and “knew it was the right place because Christi was out the front on the lawn mower!”. It would have been creepy if he wasn’t obviously such a nice guy. The street photography must be pretty old, though, because as far as I’m aware, Christi hasn’t done any household chores in at least four years. So there you go, kiddies – never, EVER give up.

IMG_0901.JPGBingo! The Google Corporation thoughtfully blurred Christi’s face, but the prosthetic leg is a dead giveaway.

Our next destination was the Saltburn Folk Festival at a place called Saltburn-By-The-Sea, situated two hours north of Sheffield, and (you guessed it) by the sea. But as there was no rush to get there, we stopped in at Starbucks. There are a few reasons we go to Starbucks, and I tell you, it’s certainly not the drinks or the food, nor is it the tacky “corporate rustic” decor. What keeps us coming back is the alluring promise of free wi-fi, vacant couches, and usually enough space to conduct band affairs without being too imposing.

We had never been to Saltburn before, but we had visited the festival website to gleam some understanding of what to expect. The website was retro, that’s for sure, but not hipster retro. It looked like it was designed in 1996 after somebodies grandma took a one day course in web design. It was a throwback to the time when web address all used to end with “.html”, and when Google was just another obscure search engine, living in the shadow of Yahoo, Alta Vista, and dozens of other long forgotten sites that used to rule the internet. By contrast, the website of Boomtown Fair – another festival on the same weekend that we had received an offer from but regrettably had to turn down – was a dazzling display of psychedelic swirls and bright colours that promised a vibrancy and youthfulness beyond anything previously experienced. “Oh well”, we told ourselves “you can’t judge a festival by its website, right?” which of course we knew was total bollocks, but it made us feel better during the drive up.

Arriving in the town of Saltburn on the Thursday before the festival, it was like a ghost town and showed no signs whatsoever that a festival may be taking place in the next 100 years. We eventually found the un-signposted festival camp grounds where we set up camp in a field with exactly two other tents. In an effort to find some life I went for a stroll into town. The town was certifiably dead as a door knob, however there were a few signs of life down by the sea, which happened to be extremely scenic. Upon climbing a little grassy hillock to fully soak in the view, I came across a pair of little girls. The younger and more outgoing girl asked me what my favourite part if the view was.

IMG_0881-0.JPGI pointed this way and told her that that was my favourite aspect of the view.

IMG_0882-0.JPGThen I pointed over here and said that this was my second favourite part.

After some conversation it was established that I was a musician. “Will you sing us a song?” Asked the girl, with hopeful eyes. I know, I know, “how sweet”, you are all thinking, “how innocent”. Wrong! The youth of today think they can just freeload music created by the blood, sweat and tears of labouring artists. Here I was, a hard working musician 20,000 kms from home, unable to afford proper accommodation, and here is this snotty nosed, ignorant little girl assuming that I’d just love to share my precious intellectual property and hard earned skills with her, just “for fun”! Despite my outrage, however, I secretly did think it’d be kinda fun to sing a little something, but for the sake if generations of musicians to come, I felt I had an obligation to nip the “music should be free” attitude in the bud, hopefully stamping it out of her little heart altogether. I could have asked for a 0.001 cent royalty on the spot, but cutting up a 1p coin into such small fractions was going to prove difficult without proper tools, so I came up with a plan. She would sing me some of her “content” in exchange for me singing some of mine. It was a deal. After being serenaded with a verse of Baa Baa Black Sheep (sneaky move by her for choosing copyright free public domain material), I proceeded to let loose on a heartfelt, a Capella version of Captain Thunderbolt. It felt good to sing, and at the end of it they nodded in agreement and said “We think you’re a reeaally good singer”, which I found quite touching.

As we had suspected, Saltburn Folk Festival was an event for an age group spanning from the elderly to the very elderly, and as far as we could tell, we were the only people under 60 – which is not a good feeling for a bunch of virile young would-be rock stars like us. It was enough to make some of retreat into a world of cinematic fantasy.

IMG_0884.JPG“If you need me I’ll be in my portable movie theatre.” Our deep cycle marine battery coupled with a power inverter provides enough juice for about 376 hours of laptop movie time.

The next day we we were glad to escape the persistently windy campsite to head off for soundcheck, which happened to involve driving through a car park, past the great big windows of a bustling tea room, and up a long and very narrow driveway – which was a breeze. What wasn’t so breezy was doing it all again in reverse with our trusty, bright blue trailer. It was more than a little awkward getting around the bend, and it didn’t take long for the people in the tea room to realise that something entertaining was going on in the parking lot outside. As Christi was sweating behind the wheel, desperately trying to maintain his reputation as Mr Trailer Reverser, we glanced over to the tea room to find our gazes met by dozens of grinning faces in the window. We watched on with embarrassment as the few people who were still unaware of the amusing spectacle were tapped on the shoulder and directed rather indiscreetly towards the unfolding attraction outside. The whole ordeal lasted easily five painful minutes, and the spectators (who had obviously grown up long before the video game era) evidently had attention spans long enough to savour every second. We all made steely resolves to make sure we secure a vehicle with tinted windows for our next tour. Incidentally, our little car park performance was better attended and more well received than both the programmed performances that day.

Meanwhile, the wind had given way to heavy rain, and we had just enough time to head back to the campsite to discover that Eileen and Rob’s tent was flooded beyond any hope of a decent nights sleep. After the show that night we had to farm them out to a Good Samaritan, like a pair of Dickensian paupers. The said Good Samaritan turned out to be more than a trifle eccentric, but they were glad for the dry bed nevertheless.

Luckily, the final gig of the festival was a step up from the other two, and if we squinted our eyes and turned our heads to the side a bit, we could almost pretend that the grey heads were trendy, vivacious, attractive twentysomethings, enraptured by our grinding sex appeal and post modern cultural relevance.

IMG_0893-0.JPGApparently bearded dwarves were all the rage in Victorian era Saltburn.

The next gig was in bonnie Scotland, at the Gordon Arms, situated in a little nook called Yarrow Valley in the Scottish Borders. We knew it would be out of the way, but we had no idea that we’d end up driving for a whole hour along narrow country back roads winding through scenic valleys of an unmistakably Scottish beauty.

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It was definitely the most scenic drive of the tour, but without seeing any towns for so long, we had to wonder who would possibly come to see us at The Gordon Arms, which, when we eventually got there, discovered that it was indeed stationed in a perfectly “middle of nowhere” setting. We were pleasantly surprised when the room filled up to capacity with a jovial audience of Scots. Evidently, they didn’t get much comedy in that neck of the woods because they all laughed so heartily at every joke we told – even those quips that are usually met with awkward silences in more cynical parts. It was a great gig and we were so well looked after, that Yarrow Valley earned itself a place on our map.

The final destination for our UK tour was the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it was nice to be reunited with Jean, an old family friend from back when Perch Creek band members were only twinkles in their grandparents’ eyes.

Seemingly Irrelevant Segue That Ends Up Seamlessly Integrating Into The Narrative:
Back in blog #3 (which now feels like an eternity ago), I related the joy I felt when reunited with a woolly, blue sock that had been left in one of my gumboots/”wellingtons” at the end of last tour. Well, losing socks is obviously a problem for me, so you can imagine the sense of wholeness I felt when Jean presented me with this long lost little gift that she had been saving for no less than two whole years.

IMG_0812.JPGMy missing purple sock!!

The sock scene in blog #3 inspired a comment from a reader named Pat, with a vivid imagination, a mathematical mind, and an enthusiasm for choose-your-own-adventure sock tales. It is with great pleasure that I present Pat with the plot development of Ms Purple Sock, whose story could interlink with the saga of Mr Blue Sock in any number of possible dramatic outcomes…

Because our overseas tour was drawing to a close and our Australia tour in October was looming ahead, we had to take advantage of the fact that we were were still all on the same continent as each other to get a photo shoot done before we split up for opposing corners of the globe for a month of R&R. After meeting the photographer for the first time and talking about ideas, we decided to do an outdoor shoot, and for some reason we decided to do it on the day that the remains of hurricane Bertha were due to hit Scotland. Unsurprisingly, when the day came, so did the rain (though not so tropical anymore), so we had to postpone it by a day, which ended up working in our favour by buying us enough time to book a hair and makeup artist. Yes, a hair and makeup artist. Her name was Jo and agency she worked for had the gloriously bubblegum scented name of GlamCandy.

IMG_0878.JPGCamilla being transformed into a delectable piece of glam-candy.

The shoot was a lot of fun, and Peter the photographer turned out to be a really cool guy. We still haven’t seen the final photo, but after a quick gander at some of the rough shots we realised that the photo was gonna be a cracker – so much so that we decided to save it for when we release our first single as Perch Creek – I’m envisioning a polished, plasticated single-use pop gem entitled “GlamCandy”…

IMG_0898.JPGBehind the scenes at the photo shoot.

Another thing we got to do in Edinburgh was to finally listen to the test pressings of our brand new Jumping On The Highwire 12″ vinyl in an obliging record store. We are so hipster it’s embarrassing!

IMG_0821.JPGSounding AOK!

The Edinburgh Fringe is so totally saturated with shows that performers have to do whatever it takes to get people to come to their shows, and for us that means busking on the Royal Mile. For a couple of days the weather and the photo shoot provided convenient reasons for not busking, but when it came to day three there was no escaping the fact that it was time to hit the streets for our first stint of busking in over 18 months, but we were suffering badly from an acute case of “too cool to busk” syndrome. Never fear, folks, after a token period of resistance, we shed our pride and embraced the street scene with a hint of nostalgia. Busking is always great fun once you play the first note, and we enjoyed the buzz.

IMG_0888.JPGA huge crowd gathers to admire James’ vintage paisley shirt.

Even Miss Eileen & King Lear had a crack at busking on “The Mile”. In fact, they did extremely well on the mile – even better than everybody’s favourite former jug band! Our team of lawyers will definitely be revising the Perch Creek contracts, to ensure that MEKL (as they are affectionately known) never end up eclipsing the very band that spawned them.

IMG_0873.JPG#tag: MEKL moment.

IMG_0889.JPGQuite a crowd… That’s Kyle sitting on the far right, who joined us on his annual Edinburgh pilgrimage.

We did quite well busking, but it was just a promotional activity for the real shows at The Famous Spiegeltent, an incredibly beautiful, structure with timber floors, a canvas roof, and walls of carved wood covered in glistening mirrors. Every event in the spiegeltent feels like a special occasion and our four shows were no exception. Unlike our usual rock venue dives, this was a proper show-biz venue. When the stage manager’s question of whether we wanted “treads on our strut” was met with blank stares from us, she had to explain that she was enquiring if we would like stairs on the stage extension.

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The tour was rapidly drawing to a close, with Edinburgh representing the final full stop at the end of our long Europe/UK chapter, and it was time to think about what to do with all our excess assorted acquisitions. At the final Spiegeltent show we invited audience members to rummage through a lucky dip box containing various items that would no longer be of use to us, including books we’ve read*, food items, a Scrabble set and assorted knick-knacks.

*Trashier titles were discreetly filtered before the box went public.

That got rid of a few things, but we still had a ton of stuff that was too good to throw away, but too hard to find a home for at midnight on a Sunday. Why did we leave our packing until midnight on the last night, you ask? Our reasoning can be explained with that multi-disciplinary principle known as Procrastinator’s Law. For those of you who haven’t done a Bachelor of Arts degree, Procrastinator was an Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist who discovered that the later you leave a task, the easier it becomes, and who also inadvertently invented the exponential curve when illustrating the relationship between “ease of task” and “lateness of commencement”. By 1:30am we had said goodbye to Jean and “See you in Canada” to Lear, Rosalie & Matilda, and were on the road, winding through the Scottish hills under the cover of darkness carrying a trailer load of junk with us, as well as our new pal Kyle, was hitching a lift back down south in the tour van.

After a painfully brief sleep at a Travelodge and some more driving we offloaded my resident Europe bass as well as a busking PA at a friend’s muso sharehouse in Leeds in the hope that they may get some use in the 10 months that we will be away from the UK. Am I worried they might mistreat my precious bass? I think the only person that could treat an instrument worse than we have treated that poor bass would be Adrian Edmonson’s character Vivian from The Young Ones or Hannibal Lecter.

We had a whole stack of camping gear that we thought we’d have to throw out the window on the autobahn, so we were pleased to discover an op shop with friendly staff who where genuinely overjoyed to receive our mountain of pre loved camping, cooking gear and those books that were earlier deemed too trashy to present to the fans. It was sad to see it all go, but it also marked the first step towards a new, more streamlined way of touring. Walking out of the op shop door, we turned around, glancing at the sign to see which noble charity we had just done wonders for. The shop was called Debra and the sign proudly stated their slightly bizarre motto: “For people whose skin doesn’t work – we do”. Not as cute as kitten rescue, but worthy none the less, and we will be glad to think that pretty soon a bunch of happy campers will be staving off the elements with dirt cheap Perch Creek camping gear.

Meanwhile, after much fretting, Lear had finally managed to transform his ginormous camper van into a ginormous stack of cash.

IMG_0891.JPGJust like magic!

Driving back through The Netherlands and Germany was a by like pressing rewind on VHS machine and watch the first part of our tour race backwards at breakneck speed. After checking in to our airport hotel it was time to return our trusty blue trailer – but not before one more difficult reversing manoeuvre. Being able to reverse a trailer is a matter of great pride (or great shame, as it were) to all the many descendants of Mr Bob Hodgkins, and Camilla, who had attested only the day before that she “always reverses the trailer perfectly” was behind the wheel. All eyes were on Camilla in her bid to substantiate her claim as she proceeded to change directions a total of 24 times as well as crash into a garbage bin, before exiting the car park. In normal circumstances insults would have been flying, but everyone was in such good spirits for the prospect of boarding a plane to a brand new continent that we all just chuckled at the absurdity of it.

We dropped the car and trailer off at Tollendorf, and had a fine farewell feast with the Steffens, before saying our goodbyes and heading back to Hamburg to finish off our packing. By “finish off”, I mean “do 90% of”. Why did we leave packing so late? Because of our unshakeable faith in the wisdom of Procastinator’s Law, that’s why!

That’s UK/Europe 2014 all wrapped up, and it’s off to Canada now for one final fling!

Pointless indulgent postscript:
As this my last chance to make known the rest of my observations about life in Great Brittannia, I will take full advantage of it. Why didn’t I mention these things earlier? I’ll explain later…

Every place has pros and cons, and in most cases they are inextricably linked. Britain has horrible traffic on its motorways, but it also has delicious blackberries (“brambles”) growing by the roadside seemingly everywhere. These may seem unrelated, but if you are unlucky enough with the traffic, you may be lucky enough to get a bunch of berries like the ones Lear, Rosalie and Matilda picked by the side of the M6. They arrived at their destinations with purple hands and faces insisting with a grin that it was all worth it. In centuries to come this will probably become a parable illustrating some sort of wisdom that has just gone slightly over my head…

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One thing I’ll miss is all the great traditional ales served in the UK – not just their taste, but also the bizarre names they have, including an ale that obviously harks back to a more innocent age, sporting the decidedly paedophilic name of Bishops Finger, and I’m not quite sure what to make of the tangy, extra dry cider named Old Mout.

The newspaper stands are a whole different thing in the UK – The Guardian is a good paper, but it is an island in an incredibly vast sea of utterly detestable tabloid garbage that makes some of the more dodgy Murdoch papers we have Down Under look like they were written for left wing scholars. It’s not just the news stands either, there are countless free tabloids on every bus, train, and practically every flat surface in the country – each publication more vacuous than the last. Hard hitting journalism is such a rare thing here, so consider yourselves lucky to be reading the hard facts straight from the source.

IMG_0665-0.JPGIt goes without saying that I bought the one about the girl who has 15 orgasms a week – how can you go past a story like that?

Stay tuned, folks!

Perch Creek's Overseas Antics