Europe Blog #9: Holy Mackerel!

After an intense weekend of festival crawling it felt good to have a real house to sleep in, take a real shower, eat some home cooked food and of course spend time with good friends – old and new. We spent two fun filled days and nights in Dorset (our new favourite county) playing games and adventuring with our lovely hosts and companions – namely Olivia, her parents Dave and Val, brother Tom and friend Alba.

This coherent narrative will now be interrupted for an important public health announcement: When living in the lap of luxury, it can be easy to over indulge in consumable vices, and we thought that we had over indulged in all of them at various times – too much alcohol (been done), too much cheese (god, yes), too much coffee (is there such thing?), too much beans (let’s not go there), etc… However, Eileen and Alba discovered a new one by consuming almost half a bag of pine nuts, resulting in four days of “taste disturbance” – a constant disgusting taste in the back of the mouth, which is actually a documented phenomenon known as “pine mouth”. You’ve been warned, people.
Now back to the story…

After a quick tennis tournament at the local courts we went down to the coast where Olivia and Tom led us over the rolling grassy headlands down to a secluded beach, carrying with us an inflatable kayak and some supplies. Once there we enjoyed a refreshing dip in the ocean and some beach games before taking to the seas in the kayak.

20140804-182259-66179969.jpgMarching over the headlands in full holiday mode.

20140804-230113-82873748.jpgOlivia v Tom in the tennis tournament.

Paddling out from the sandy beach into the calm waters of the British channel, with the evening sunlight shining on the chalk cliffs, it felt like we were inside a painting. After a few minutes of paddling we got to our scenic destination – “Durdle Door”, which is a famous natural bridge formation – like a flying buttress from the cliff face over the water. It was awesome to be able to paddle right through it and see it from all angles. My phone would have gotten wet if I’d have taken it on the kayak with me, which is why I charted a private helicopter later, allowing me to take this award-winning snap:

20140804-182458-66298885.jpg
Paddling back home, Dave and Val put their line out and caught, literally, a bucket load of fresh mackerel, some of which we cooked up and ate that night (so tasty). I think our hosts must have been trying to convince us that Wool, Dorset is paradise, and I think they might just have succeeded.

All that fun was a big workout for our feeble bodies, which had become weak from spending so much time on our bums, eating junk food in the tour van, so we all slept like logs that night. Actually, not all of us…

Lear, Rosalie and Matilda chose to leave that night for our next destination so Matilda could get some sleep in the car while they drove to Wales for a lunch time gig the next day at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. It wasn’t meant to be too huge a drive, but their poor motor-home finally spluttered and bunny-hopped one last time before stalling outside the venue at 4am in desperate need of mechanical attention.

We joined them in time for the gig, which was fairly small but featured a dedicated and appreciative afternoon crowd, as well as quality sound engineers, which always helps make our lives easy.

The problem with the motor-home appeared to be a dead clutch, and we were worried that we’d be stuck in Cardiff for a week, but thankfully it was all fixed by the next morning – and for a mercifully low price, too. Luckily it didn’t need a new clutch, and for the benefit of all you mechanically minded people out there, I will include a transcript of Lear’s technical description of the procedure, “so there’s, like, this thing on the car, and it’s got this, like, little kinda thingy on it, and the thingy was broken and needed to be replaced”. Get the picture?

With that all sorted we were off to play another festival, this one called Starry Skies. The festival was run by the same guy who runs a festival called Shambala, which we played at back in ’12. While Shambala could accurately be described as an orgy of limitless hedonism, we were told that Starry Skies would be “a bit more family friendly”. To call that an understatement would be, well, a rather large understatement… That said, there were, however, some similarities between the festivals – both festivals were swarming with people who had no clothes and no inhibitions, behaving erratically and with unnaturally high energy levels. The only difference being that the Starry Skies revellers were all under three feet tall. The place was a veritable wonderland for children – it wasn’t actually a music festival at all, but more of a summer camp for young families. There was one band performing per day and we were Thursday’s entertainment commencing at 7pm – directly after the 6pm bedtime stories session.

20140804-182638-66398546.jpgHelluva time slot!

The gig was fun, and looking down on the tiny dancers, I felt like even more of a giant than I actually am. Halfway through the set Camilla caused a pint sized riot by holding out her signature plastic crocodile for the youngsters to stroke – the kiddies were pushing and falling all over each other in desperate bids to touch the crocodile, which seemed to wield a magical magnetism. When it was eventually retracted, enabling Camilla to get on with playing the keys, the act was met with looks of dejection and protruding bottom lips among audience members, so croc had to be held out for the fans once more. That poor crocodile has spent so many years being ignored by audiences and ridiculed by band members that it was quite moving to see it finally receiving some proper attention.

20140804-182806-66486982.jpgThis is the dance floor before we got on stage – amplify the scene by about tenfold to get an accurate picture of how it looked in full swing.

While we were there we took a windy 10 minute drive through narrow roads lined closely with hedgerows down to the ruins of Skenfrith Castle, just across the Wales/England border. It was a beautiful castle and even more beautiful still was swimming in the stream that once fed the castle’s moat. The water was cool but not too cold and felt not unlike our very own Perch Creek back home.

20140804-230559-83159169.jpgThe inner keep of Skenfrith Castle. Note the blue sky in Wales – everywhere we go we have incredibly good luck with the weather.

Our next gig was a wedding back in Dorset, followed by an exciting and also unexpected gig at WOMAD – one of the most prestigious “world music” festivals in the world and godfather to Aussie’s own WOMADelaide. To save on accommodation and to maximise fun, we would be camping at WOMAD for the whole weekend. The drive from Starry Skies to WOMAD was meant to be quite short but when we stopped at a service station that had complimentary Wi Fi, we couldn’t resist the temptation to stick around and take advantage of the “information superhighway” (if you are old enough to remember the heyday of that phrase, then, like me, you’ll have a hard time convincing Perch Creek band members that you are still “relevant”). As hundreds of travellers came and went all around us, we stayed put for four whole hours, catching up on weeks worth of admin work surrounded by gaudy truck stop decor and the scent of fried food. Darkness was falling as we finally rolled in to the festival, circumnavigating the huge main arena on the service roads past the multitudes of humming generators, throbbing sub woofers and glimmering carney rides on our way to artist camping. This was no Starry Skies.

In the morning we had to leave for the wedding, which was a happy occasion and happier still as the bride was so incredibly stoked that the crazy Aussies she had seen busking in Bournemouth two years ago and become enamoured with, just happened to be touring again in the UK on her wedding day.

The drive back to WOMAD that night was two hours long, but at that time of night it felt like six. Let’s pretend we are in the Previa right now – it’s 1am on the open highway and as the lights of oncoming trucks swoosh past, we are killing time by telling the story of how it came to be that Perch Creek kids ended up on stage at WOMAD. It all started one night in a rural area of sunny Jamaica when a man named Andrew Chin, the poverty stricken orphaned son of a celebrated reggae singer, had a dream in which he was told to play a guitar strung with only a single string instead of the usual six. From that moment Brushy One String was born. He became a common sight busking in his home town and one day he was discovered there by an American film maker who subsequently exposed his music to the world. In 2014 Brushy had big plans to travel to the UK for a booking at WOMAD, but fate had other ideas. Just two short weeks before the event, festival organisers were thrown into a flurry with the news that Brushy’s visa was, for reasons unknown to us, invalid or non-existent. Three or four phone calls later, our booking agent has got our Perch Creek foot firmly wedged in the space left to us by our tragically disorganised friend Mr Brushy One String.

Brushy sounded like such a cool guy that we were sad we didn’t get to see him, but having the gig was ample compensation. We rocked it! The crowd lapped it up despite the fact that we had too many guitar strings, the wrong skin colour and, in short, nothing really at all in common with Mr One String, whose smiling mug shot was still on the programme.

After the show we were asked to sign a release form from the World & Traditional Music section of the British Library permitting them to make available a recording of the show for all eternity in British Library reading rooms located in St Pancras, London and Boston Spa, Yorkshire. That’s great news, but if I’d known that beforehand I probably wouldn’t have drunk an entire bottle of wine before getting on stage… I said some pretty bizarre stuff on the mic but it all came off well so it’s kinda cool that it will be immortalised for all time and probably studied by British scholars long after I am dead and gone.

20140805-095353-35633269.jpgOne minute we are kings and queens of the stage, five minutes later we are setting our dignity aside to pack the awkwardly undersized trailer.

Festival camping, while being great fun, has it’s drawbacks, too. On the last day of the festival, when Camilla finally reached the end of the queue to make use of the grossly overfilled port-a-loos, she wrapped her shampoo, conditioner and a fresh change of clothes in a crisp towel, and placed the bundle of essentials in a neat little pile on the grass before braving the rank smelling plastic cubicle. Upon her exit she noticed that the line of queuers had stepped aside to make way for a huge service truck that was heading directly for her neatly folded parcel. Bursting out of the cubicle she made a lightning fast dash for the parcel just in time to watch, in slow motion, the huge muddy tire roll over her treasured belongings, the shampoo and conditioner crushing under the full weight of the vehicle, releasing a sound you’d expect to come from inside the portaloo, and shooting twin jets of green, apple scented goo high into the air. As the truck moved on without a second thought, Camilla was left to pick up the messy, shampoo soaked remains from the muddy tire tracks. So much for a fresh morning shower. On the bright side, at least she wouldn’t have to bother sitting through the 40 minute shower queue now.

There was nothing left to do now, except to put the mess in a “deal with later” pile (aka our trailer), and go and try to find some breakfast – or brunch, or lunch or whatever you want to call it – on tour, it’s futile to try to name your meals. When the first meal you eat is at 2:30pm – is that breakfast or lunch? When the second and possibly last meal of the day is a sandwich at 6pm – is that lunch or dinner?

One paradox of touring life is laundry. When you are really busy, you don’t have time to do the washing, so obviously the dirty laundry piles up, but when you are really, really busy, you don’t even bother changing clothes, so you end up with only one set of dirty clothes after an extended period of manic activity.

On our final morning at WOMAD we noticed Eileen sporting her spare set of glasses and it came to light that she had lost a lens from her old pair while on one of the carney rides that Rob and her had been on the previous night. Their description of the ride was like so – you get into a small cage, they put some kind of uncomfortable “safety” bar over you, that succeeds in cutting into your ribs, but fails to secure you in any kind of way, then the ride starts and you are violently shaken and hurled around for about three minutes, during which time you hit your head and face countless times on the side of the cage and colliding with the person next to you. At the end of the ride you are battered, sick, dizzy and missing £4 and in Eileen’s case, one glasses lens. After searching immediately afterwards and also in the morning light, the lens was nowhere to be found, so it would seem that Eileen would have to stick with her grandma glasses for rest of the tour, to the particular distress if Matilda, who hates to see a person transformed into their own evil twin by simply donning strange glasses. Lucky the sympathetic carney gave her £2 compensation for the ordeal.

The weekend was now officially over and it was time to head off to the Welsh hills for five days of solitude and songwriting.

Stay tuned, folks!!

3 thoughts on “Europe Blog #9: Holy Mackerel!”

  1. Your blog is nearly as awesome as the band. If my bloke of 20 years ever agrees to marriage so our three kids aren’t complete bastards we’ll invite you to play at our wedding too.

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