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!

2 thoughts on “Europe Blog #11: The UK All Wrapped Up”

  1. The WooHoo Revue played at Boomtown. Well actually they didn’t. It was rained out, venues flooded, festival cancelled, bands unable to even get into the site. I think they had more fun than you that weekend, but you had an audience.

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