We had been looking forward to our songwriting week for many months, but up until two days before it was due to start, we still had no venue and were considering the possibility of holding a songwriting retreat in some dodgy caravan park, truck stop or motel car park. Lucky for us, Eileen secured a very promising looking country house in Wales at the 11th hour. The previous songwriting retreat we did was in the sand dunes of the beach near Rye, Victoria and nobody expected our British house to come close to that, but we were pleasantly mistaken.
The house was high in the Welsh hills and when we pulled in the driveway it was apparent that Eileen had indeed come through with the goods. It was a big, spacious house boasting an incredible view of the valley and hills beyond. The property backed onto a huge expanse of rolling, fern covered hills, criss-crossed with walking tracks open to nature lovers, sheep and horses. With no pesky neighbours within sight or earshot, it was clear we were going to have a good time.
A few weeks prior, we had submitted a request to the faceless administrators behind the Facebook corporation to remove the “Family Jugband” part of our oversized and outdated band name from our Facebook page, and it serendipitously came into effect on the first day of our songwriting period, freeing us from the tired shackles of the jug band label.
Each morning and night was spent jamming in the lounge room, pulling exciting new grooves and melodies from thin air. At the start of any creative enterprise there is always the fear that the creativity won’t flow, but experience has proven that for us, so far at least, it always does. It’s such a great feeling to drop all the responsibilities of publicity, promotion, logistical planning, booking, driving, sound checks, emails, lugging, accounting and all the other things that musicians have to do, and to just focus on creativity.
By some mysterious and happy miracle, Eileen’s missing glasses lens that had long since been written off as disappeared forever, magically appeared in the centre of her bed at the house. The only plausible explanation of its sudden re-appearance was the unlikely circumstance of the lens falling out of the glasses frames back on the ride at WOMAD and slipping into Rob’s shirt pocket, where it must have remained unnoticed until quietly falling out of the pocket and onto the bed in Wales.
Lear helping us to get the creative juices flowing with his pride and joy – the vintage 50s era “atomic” espresso machine. As far as we can tell, the only way to get a decent coffee in the UK is to bring your own coffee machine and do it yourself. This of course begs the question – what sort of person flies across the world and back with an espresso machine in their luggage? Well, in blog #1 I mentioned that people who fly as much as we do are entitled to certain baggage allowance bonuses (carbon neutral, we ain’t) and you probably didn’t believe me, but this photo is undeniable proof. Also, we are partial to a dose of caffeine in the morning – sometimes so partial that we occasionally even endure English cappuccinos that invariably taste like watery Nescafé with added bubble bath mixture. In fact, every piece of those manic ramblings known as blogs I’ve written so far has been 100% powered by that most stimulating of molecules.
As well as home made coffee we thoroughly enjoyed home cooked meals every night, the pinnacle of which was Christi’s spectacular lasagne effort. Christi is an all or nothing type of guy – he has no interest in mundane chores like providing basic nourishment for band mates, but given the chance he will endeavour to achieve glory by creating a legendary masterpiece of decadent cuisine in epic proportions – which is exactly what he did, to the enjoyment of all.
The jams kept coming and we surprised ourselves with the exciting new sounds that we were creating each day. Most songs were written on the spot by way of jamming, but Lear also brought into daylight a few of his own hit songs that he had been saving up. Upon receiving some resistance to some of the aforementioned songs, he came out with this inspirational quote: “Look guys, do you want to play hit songs or do you want to play shit songs?”. Golden.
After four full days of creative fun, we were all refreshed, re-inspired and ready to say goodbye to our little home to hit the road for Robin Hood country, where we were booked to play the Nottingham Riverside Festival.
We had only been driving about 20 mins when we saw possibly the most outlandish scene we had ever laid eyes on. An authentic gypsy camp was setup by the side of the road, looking just like something out of a story book or a movie set – complete with colourful horse drawn gypsy carriages that must have been over 100 years old and about 15 huge Clydesdale horses all tethered together. It was like looking into a time warp. Perhaps to you worldly Europeans, nomadic gypsies are just a part of life, but in sheltered old Oz, they simply do not exist. None of us had any idea that that lifestyle still existed in the 21st Century outside of Eastern Europe.
The Nottingham Riverside Festival had a distinct carnival atmosphere, with countless rides and attractions. While we were onstage and supposed to be focussing on the audience, we all ended up getting hypnotised by the immediate view of the giant pendulum ride dramatically known as the AtmosFEAR. I was so out of it that I forgot to play my bass solo in Bitchin’ Betty Lou – while the rest of the band cut out to give me my limelight, I merely stood there, staring out at the ride while a thin stream of drool exited the left side of my mouth. After the show we were pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of people had come to the festival specifically to see us – some of whom had travelled quite far. One avid fan confessed to spending many unsuccessful hours on Google Maps trying to locate the elusive Perch Creek. We gave him a few pointers, assured him that it was in fact there, and not to give up the search.
While we were busy on stage doing our thing, Matilda had been eyeing off the rides, and eventually her doting parents couldn’t resist giving her her first ever go on a genuine carney ride. She was all smiles and giggles as we strapped her in to the cute yellow tractor and showed her how to operate the little horn, but when the ride kicked into gear, her face took on an expression of bewilderment that lasted the entire time the colourful traffic was winding around its course, spiralling up to the top level and then back down again. It was the most amusing thing we had ever seen. There is something indescribably hilarious about seeing a helpless little bundle of joy operating a colourful piece of heavy machinery while spinning in and out of view. Kids think that the parents lay down their £2.50 for the benefit of the child, but they are blissfully unaware of how incredibly amusing it is for the doting spectators. When it was all over and Matilda was back in her boring old stroller, there was a 30 second period of silence while reality came crashing back in on her freshly expanded mind before the predictable outcome of toddler ride withdrawal syndrome reared it’s ugly head.
Next up was a cute gig at a little place called the Three Horseshoes in North Cove, Suffolk. The gig was a weekend-long mini festival organised by an enthusiastic and mildly eccentric guy called Kyle and his comedic alter-ego named Colin Mars. We were promised that the stage would be on the back of a lorry (that’s pommy talk for a semi-trailer), but when we got there, we found that the stage was on a vehicle literally the exact size of Lear and Rosalie’s camper van! We all fitted with a bit of a squeeze, but unfortunately I wasn’t be able to bust out any of those cross stage knee slides I had been practising. The gig was really fun and super laid back in the afternoon sun. Being such a small vehicle, the suspension was pretty light and with Eileen dancing as she does, at times it felt like we were playing a gig on a trampoline.
Meanwhile, Matilda was in the crowd charming people left right and centre, as only she can do. After studying the effect she has on young couples, we have come up with a little business plan for making the most of her talents – it goes like this: We hire out Matilda to women who need help convincing their spouses to commit to starting a family. Matilda stays with the couple for an afternoon, charming them all into thinking that their little brat-to-be will be as angelic as her. The client ends up with her own happy family within 10 months, Matilda gets gainful employment and we, of course, take a hefty agent’s cut – everybody wins!
That night we stayed in Kyle’s house while him, his wife Vikki and their two kids Luca and Summer stayed in a tent in the backyard. We felt pretty spoilt but they insisted that their kids had been looking forward to the “camping adventure” (PR magic, right there) for weeks.
We spent a lovely day hanging out with the Maces, including a visit to Southwold pier, where, among the usual cafés and tourist shops, there was a sort of twisted gaming room made by a local artist, full of bizarre slot machines, ranging from the wacky to the macabre.
That evening Kyle and Vikki took us for a barbecue to a nice little spot by a canal, which was extremely enjoyable, despite Perch Creek members inventing a new way to annoy each other, dubbed “backseat barbecuing” (I think I sense another segue coming…).
When touring with Perch Creek, you need to get through certain challenging endurance tests. I’m not talking physical endurance, but the ability to endure irritations including (but not limited to) farting, bickering, criticisms and the big one – backseat driving. Looking back to when I first joined the band I see how green I was, but now my skin has toughened to the point where I can take anything you care to throw at me without breaking a sweat – in fact, these days if no one’s criticising my driving, the trip takes on a sort of empty, hollow quality. Backseat barbecuing, on the other hand, is not something that I have developed resistance to, but hey, what is life without challenges? I held it together, quietly kept the good vege skewers to myself, giving the burnt and raw ones to my team of helpful supervisors.
We liked the Mace family so much, we even let them convince us into performing that old song “How Did The Young Man Lose His Leg?” – strictly in private, of course, as everyone knows that we are now “so too cool for that song, it’s not funny”.
Next up was a gig in Sheffield with The Buffalo Skinners, a band of cool guys who we met at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest on our previous tour, and who we were excited to catch up with again.
Every so often as a musician, you bump into classic old seasoned rockers and roadies, the likes of which would fit right in to the set of “This Is Spinal Tap”, and rocking up to The Greystones for soundcheck we were greeted by a prime example. The sound engineer was a classic old dude sporting a rats tail hair-do, a crooked smile and the gloriously rock’n’roll name of Fester.
Speaking of roadies, Matilda has a new game where she clutches an imaginary microphone and says “One, two! One, two! More. Less. Thank you”, then she starts hitting imaginary drums with accompanying sound effects.
As the crowd streamed in they were greeted by the dulcet tones of our very own Bob Harrow, and by the time The Buffalo Skinners hit the stage the room was packed. We headlined the night and a merry time was had by audience and band members alike.
After the show we wanted to party on with the Buffalo Skinners, so we all headed out to a place called West Street Live despite warnings that it was extremely tacky. The place was everything it was cracked up to be and I think I can summarise the place by letting you know that the most popular drink appeared to be a shots of something known as a “Schit Bomb”, which could be purchased for £1 each. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the pleasure of trying a Schit Bomb for ourselves, as it was quickly decided (using sign language to communicate through the loud music) that this wasn’t the venue for a Perch Creek/Buffalo Skinners rendezvous. Then, as the Buffalo Skinners will surely testify, we all went straight home to our respective beds without getting up to any further mischief…
That’s all for now, folks , but stay tuned!