USA TOUR BLOG APRIL/MAY 2010
A beautiful day – one of just two we’ve had since last October. Warm, clear, perfect flying weather. The good feeling lasted all the way to the airport where for some reason my name was picked by computer to be taken out of line and subjected to a detailed baggage and body search. I was confused – I had anticipated having half a jar of Bovril confiscated as Neil did last time he attempted to fly but a body search????. Ten minutes later having called on every American but the president himself, I realised we weren’t going to fly unless we cooled down and resigned ourselves to the inevitable. I mention all this because what the body search turned out to be was a quick frisk of the kind they do when the metal detecting machine goes off as you walk through it with keys in your pocket. I thought I was about to undergo the rubber glove treatment. We were more than a little embarrassed by the misunderstanding, but after that the flight was as smooth as silk, and all was forgiven on meeting an Al Pacino look alike at US customs. US customs usually make you feel like they are letting you in to America against their better judgement, but this one smiled and said ‘welcome’. Took a taxi to the hotel which we thought was busy for 2am, kids running around, people drinking coffee all over the place. Realised it was actually 7pm – changed the time on our watches and mobiles, and fell into a deep slumber till 3am. Then played cards till 8.
A gap of two days during which we get used to being on the road again – complaining about each others driving, spending money on things we don’t need, forgetting the things we do. Endless phone interviews during which I try to escape for some air on my own in downtown New York, where I love to get lost. PIC no 1713 Now a pink dawn comes up over the Hudson. I try and imagine a plane coming down on it – must have been spectacular.
So what’s not to like about America apart from the Tea Party and those women whose cutsy voices have never matured from around 4 years old. There’s a lot to like. Trees for example and the way the sun sets aboves the facades of the endless malls. People – educated and erudite, caring and concerned – the sort of people who regularly turn up to see Neil and are a joy and an education to talk to, which I never tire of, and which is probably one good reason I come on these trips. Last night I learned the basic rules of ice hockey!
First gig was in a library in Ocean City. It was a large hall with a low-rise stage which is the best kind for Neil as he likes to get in close to the audience. The venue was so quiet when we drove up we thought we had the wrong day, so went for some food in a neighbourhood café with that cosy village community feeling which runs through so many small American towns. There seem to be an awful lot of ways to get involved. You get the feeling that everyone knows everyone else and each person is expected to support the community they belong to. Downside might be that you never get to ‘be alone’ and not turn up to things without having to say why, but that is probably a very english thing to say. We seem to enjoy our insularity and anonymity.
The audience was mixed to say the least – eight to eighty years old, with some stragglers either end. They all had a good time and there was a long queue to chat to Neil and get things signed. There was also a guy, Jules Henry, who works with Bob Dylan. He said Bob always took ‘The Rutles’ cds with him on tour. Is that true? In return I could say that both of us are true BD fans having stayed with him through all the changes and now enjoying every minute of his radio shows. Hope he feels the same about Neil’s radio shows. He only did four –best bits of two are on his new album called surprisingly, Best Bits Part 1, together with some newer and older songs.
Today a mass of interviews the first with Ken Dashow (WXFT). To get there we walked past the 9/11 site and were surprised to see very little had gone up in the years since then. The New World Trade Centre or Freedom Building is coming up in one corner but otherwise just a large empty space full of big machines. A Park would be nice.
A sudden bright red Jeff Koon leapt into view as we walked to the interview.
Ken began by mentioning the health issues you have over here. Some people being frightened of free health care. Are they mad ??. Those stories you get about people dying in their hundreds in the UK because they can’t see a doctor are total rubbish. We can go to a doctor anytime we want and we get treatment from a general practiicioner free. If we need it we can be referred to a specialist, again free or we can pay for the same service. We have a choice, but at least everyone down to the humblest shuffler knows that he will get free medical help when he needs it. At least we don’t do MRI scans for a bruised knee. The waste of money going to fat cat insurance companies, ‘specialists’, lawyers etc makes me weep. The other issue right now in the US is the pure anger and hate steaming out of Tea Party. Over in England many of us think it is just that they can’t bear that a black guy should be in the white house - end of story. To us it is as clear as day, and then I heard Bill Mar saying it. Halleluiah. At least all the loonies now have somewhere to go now - The Tea Party, home of western terrorists, racists, bigots and any other thick ill-informed mad people. Makes me feel good when I see guys driving around with OBAMA stickers still on their cars. You have to be brave to put your head above the parapet in the US these days.
There were other interviews in New York and then a couple of guys wanted to do a video interview. Neil took them to a ‘plaza’ type of space near our hotel in Jersey City. It had pretty plane trees, granite seating and a backdrop of the Hudson. It was a lovely evening, the moon making the river sparkle. The space was completely empty and the interview was moving easily through memories, stories and songs, until half way through it, a lady in a suit came over to say we were in private space and we had to move. So in the end the interview was conducted in our hotel room.
Today a drive to Piermont – another ‘Ocean City’ type of town. Very pretty to look at and the Turning Point was a gig Neil did last with Tom and JJ. Have wonderful memories of JJ trying to get the flight cases out of the safety belts he had locked them into, without cutting the belts. Eventually someone found a tool to do just that and the cases were released. John, the owner has had a hard time through this recession, just like everyone else, but thankfully the Turning Point is still there. Some friends came and it was lovely to see them. Bill Kates mum bought a red duck tee shirt to wow her friends with at her ‘Sunset’ home. The tees are bright this year – not the black coolly subtle ones we bought before. These ones leap out and grab you by the throat.
By the Estuary
Drive to a Holiday Inn Express at Chesapeake Bay to a room overlooking the bay and stood at the window watching Ospreys, and all sorts of river mammals. The sun was hot and we had lunch outside on the grass. A beautiful moment, the Marina to our left and just water, reeds, sky and sun to the right. Bliss.
Then on to the Nightcat at Easton which turned that beautiful day into something of a nightmare – the gig from hell. Turns out the owner had decided to show The Holy Grail before Neil came on, which meant the audience would be sitting for nearly four hours all together. And then there was no piano, so one had to be found and no dressing room. Eventually we managed to gain access to an upstairs room with two hard chairs and a table. When I mentioned the conditions in the rider the guy said he never took any notice of them. Hope this will be noted by people who need to know it. The audience were warm but of course as tired after the film as Neil was. On the plus side the café part of this venue sold really nice coffee and cakes. Back to the hotel and sleep. Neil is still on a teetotal diet so none of the usual goodies on offer to help you while away the night hours.
What a huge difference a day makes. Today at Jammin java in Vienna Virginia. There was help in with flightcases, a good piano, an excellent sound guy, a comfortable green room, food, water – anything we needed. The venue is run by musicians who know about touring. You get tired, and, especially if you are a one- man show, it is helpful to be able to stretch out and gather your thoughts beforehand, so a comfortable sofa and a quiet room is good. There was a lovely responsive audience. In this show ‘The peoples Guide to World Domination’, Neil has a few songs which need audience participation and they really did participate. It was great to meet them afterwards especially the people we met years before at different gigs. However the hotel was a bummer – do not want to remember it. There were ‘stink’ bugs –large beetles buzzing around a grassed area where Neil was doing interviews. I asked how they got their name and was told not to hit them – that’s when they stink. Another day and we realise this scalding hot weather is going to stay and we need shorts so its over to the mall.
Three hours to Westhampton Hotel and given exactly the same room we had last year – ground floor, large room, easy access all making life a lot simpler. Later, driving to the Record Collector in Bordentown, we both realised we were deeply tired – exactly a week since we flew in and no rest.
Neil managed to do the gig and we went back to the hotel. Although we had no gigs the next day, we had a lot more driving – five hours north through New York state As we parked the car it started raining. I looked up at the dark sky and prayed for clement weather. Turned on the computer to see what was ahead weatherwise and found out about the volcanic cloud in Iceland grounding all planes in Europe. Luke was about to come back from Munich and we both wondered if he got back. He didn’t that day – had to wait another two days to get an over-priced Eurostar ticket. A friend was stuck in the Seychelles which I thought was lucky – can’t think of many places I would rather be stuck. Wondered if we would be stuck in Phoenix – sort of hoped so. Would like to spend more time there. We always seem to be rushing through these far away places. Talking of which we always seem to be driving through large American towns to some little known place which is difficult to get to for Neils venues. He plays places like BB Kings but then we drive right through Baltimore. Surely there are venues there. I know Neil likes playing small places but if he was not in such remote venues– he could reach out to many more people. We hired a publicity person this tour but we did a lot of the work ourselves with the invaluable help of our son Luke and his design and computer skills. He actually has an ‘in’ to our computers so that when something goes wrong we don’t have to ring up and describe it – he just goes into the errant computer from wherever he is and fixes the problem. Can’t tell you how good that is. Downside is that we rely on it so if we get stuck and he isn’t there – big problem, A bit like depending on satellite navigation to find your way around and then the battery runs out for whatever reason, and you end up with no map and absolutely no idea where you are.
Next day a late start because we had Saturday night off, which might surprise you – it surprised us too. A three-hour drive to Northampton and another disappointing hotel. When I booked it I thought it might be on the edge of the Catskills or at least in the country, but this area could not have been more urban – straddled at the crossroads of three motorways. Pool closed and a damp swimming pool smell pervading the corridors. Bar dark – in fact was not really a bar we found out later-just a mock up. I book hotels with care in the UK, but what they say they have and what they do have when you get there are two different things. Pools are invariably closed and in this hotel there was no breakfast on Sundays!! However there was a mall close by where we could get bits for our computers – like speakers so we can watch a DVD on the computer late in the evening. It is impossible to watch films on TV here be cause of the continual long commercial breaks. One third into the film and you have forgotten which film you are trying to watch. At least modern technology has permeated the back woods areas of the US, so that we can get free internet everywhere we stay. Last year it was hit and miss.
And an early 7pm show in Northampton. Drove in lunchtime to look around and found an odd mix of hippy/student shops. Good feel about the place – run down in a comfortable way. The Iron Horse has a nice woody layout – a jazz -club feel holding about 120. Around that many turn up, all great fans knowing most of the old songs and totally ready and receptive to the new ones. It was a fun show for Neil because the sound was so good and he had a grand piano, which always has the effect of reducing him to a quivering jelly. Sometimes he enjoys it so much he forgets the audience. Not often. They responded so keenly to the band shouts they made him jump, and there was a huge queue at the end to meet Neil and get him to sign albums, CDs, teeshirts, paperbags etc.
We head back to New York and to the Penn hotel where JJ and Tom stayed a couple of years ago. No gig tonight but a heavy few days ahead. First the gig at BB Kings on Tuesday, after which we drive to Stoudberg to sleep. Then on again the next day to play in Rochester. Then Toronto and Hamilton before flying to Seattle, then Portland …..enough…… enough. We are still hearing that the ash is pouring out of the volcano – so having been so sure it wouldn’t affect us, as we were here for another two weeks, we now wonder. Would be no bad thing if we were stuck in Phoenix, at least we could visit the crater and have a look at this bit of America, instead of watching it whiz past.
The Penn Hotel was a nightmare. A queue about 200 yards long mainly people who couldn’t fly because of the volcano. It took an hour to get to the front of the queue and then we were given a room that smelt of god knows what; then a room with a single bed, going up a couple of floors each time and finally a decent room with a king sized bed. This was all down to the bell hop – who made our happiness his personal goal and didn’t leave till we were happy. Assumed we would be able to get online free, which we have been able to do at every other hotel, but The Penn still charges for this ‘free’ service –so we didn’t bother and we went out to supper with Mike Carlin of DC comics and a couple of his friends. Have a fabulous meal at a Greek restaurant round the corner. Bed by about 9pm – we were tired, but also have to travel after the gig at BB Kings to break the journey to Rochester.
We checked out of the Penn and stored all the luggage at BB Kings and parked up, which meant we could have some time in New York without worrying about the car. Neil did a couple of interviews at Sirius Radio and then we had lunch out in the open at Bryant Park – a lovely open space towered over by massive buildings, which somehow, the sun manages to squeeze through.
There is a ring of tall slender plane trees, grass, kiosks, tables and chairs, music, and the french game –boule, organised by a couple of guys in black berets.
There was a very strange green space down by the ferry terminal at the business end of Manhatton. Not Battery Park, much smaller and wilder. From the river it looked like a brick raised circular wall high towards the river and dipping down towards the road. But we could see trees on the top of it. When we went round to the front – it was a steeply sloped green space, about 200 yards long and wide which was set out with wild areas and grasses and you could walk up to the top and sit amidst the grass looking out to the busiest bit of Manhatten. It is so weird – it is like an ad for how it used to be pre - people. Can’t think how the wild flowers suvive.
Anyway Bryant Park is nothing like that – it is like a healthy lung and a respite in the middle of the noisy cacophony that is NYC. And so to BB Kings. There is nothing quite like the way BBs respect your rider, nothing they don’t do to make you feel at ease. There is coffee and water from the start. And hors d’oevres – fresh vegetables and dips, fresh fruit, nachos and salsa. Then they give you a menu for hot meals. You are given peace and quiet, sofas as well as an excellent sound man etc etc. There are a good number of people here especially considering the price of the tickets at $30 each. The opener is the ventriloquist puppeteer Carla Rhodes who we knew from years ago. She has a band with her this time and does impressions of Mick jagger, Keith Richard and a New York pigeon. Neil is introduced and on he goes. Every gig is different re. timing. Some venues want two halves with an interval, and some 90 mins, some 75 mins so Neil has to juggle the show to fit and somehow he seems to remember exactly what to leave out or put in etc. Amazing. This tour has been remarkable in that everyone joins in when Neil asks, but with confidence and loudly. It was a great evening and at the end of it we scurried out into the night, through the twists and turns of New York City and out onto the highway to get some of the way to Rochester. Arrived at the Hampton Inn about 1am and left again about 10am. We seem to be swinging through this tour with fabulous weather. The last time we did a ‘through the night’ drive the heavens opened and threw down anything they could at us. This time velvet night skies and clear roads.
Head off to Rochester again with clear blue day skies and beautiful sun. It takes a few hours but we finally get to the longest spread out mall we had yet seen. Somewhere in this mile of same coloured stone buildings, our hotel was hiding. Took a while to find it. The venue was The Lovin Cup which was hired for the gig by the lovely Tom Kahn who is a great fan.
Unfortunately the venue is hopeless for Neil. The gig is ticketed but the bar is open to anyone and some of those ‘anyones’ think any music they hear is just a backdrop to their conversation. So they chat , the coffee machine grinds coffee beans, and in the corner the hockey game is televised. Actually I love watching ice hockey, so that wasn’t too bad but the general level of disturbance and activity distracts Neil and so I walk over to the Barnes and Noble bookshop to browse. Rochester has a large student and a military population – strange mix. So the shop had a lot of military history, religion and right wing stuff. Kicked myself the next day for not buying a little sweetie of a book called – ‘everything you need to know about the ultra right who like to shoot things’. Actually it wasn’t called that but it was a slim volume as anything talking about what those people believe in would have to be.. Will try and find one on our travels, not a person – heaven forbid that I should meet one close up, but a book.
Back at the hotel we wondered why Neil has to play in places like this. Actually he doesn’t, but somehow agents in the US don’t seem to check up on the gig before booking it. Should never be a situation with no piano or no dressing room etc etc.
Anyway Tom came over next morning for a coffee and we commiserated about the lack of suitable venues in Rochester. A smallish club with ticketed entry and clean loos shouldn’t be a problem. Should it?
Then a sunny easy drive to Toronto passing through Canadian and US customs and taking a quick diversion to Niagara. Have never been there – was amazing – we did all the tourist things of getting soaked by the tumultuous spray coming off the falls, taking pics in the safe area in front of them and wondering about the tiny boat full of blue -mac clad people going so near the falls and hanging in there. Heaven knows what kind of engines it must have had to do that.
I love Toronto for being on the edge of a great lake, like Chicago, and for having interesting downtown areas as well as all the business areas. Got to Hugh’s room to find a really nice club of exactly the sort I was dreaming about before. Lovely helpful professional people – food, water, tea coffee everything we needed. Great sound guy and a fantastic grand piano. Could not want for more, and then as the audience piled in, old friends appeared who we had seen in Canada last time we came. Need gigs like Toronto to keep us going. Next day, sunny and fresh, we had a wander downtown through markets and small shops. Drove out along the lake side. Looks fabulous, although I was told it was too polluted to swim in – all that water and nowhere to swim.
Oh dear, what a come down. This time it’s Hamilton and looks like every one went to Toronto. Even a glowing write up in a local paper did not work – people don’t want to come here. Run by lovely people as they always are, but the wrong gigs for Neil. What a nice guy he is – he works through everything however wrong. This time a long narrow bar with an open space at the end of it where people can just come in and talk loudly. Four gigs in a row is bad too – we just get tired – decided three is the maximum in a row, ideally with two nights free. All this travelling as well – too much. So Neil has just gone on stage again to the usual cheers and shouts and he forgets the lines in the first song – I know he is tired –otherwise he has an endless memory, total recall even under pressure. Wish I had. However Holiday Inn Express at Hamilton is not at all bad, and we got the washing done in the laundry room while swimming in their indoor pool. Also a spa bath in which Neil steamed himself for enough time to cook a rare steak. It was hot.
Today we drive to Buffalo and take two flights – one to Chicago and then on to Seattle. Have been so lucky with international flights not charging excess baggage. that we forgot small internal flights operate on such a tight budget that they charge for everything. So we had to pay $200 excess on the smallest cheapest flight. Neil was not happy and kept the whole queue waiting while he outlined exactly why he should not have to pay and the lady behind the desk outlined exactly why he should. She won, obviously, and I had a sneaky feeling that we would be stopped and given a hard time a little further down the line. However she was forgiving, so she didn’t mark our boarding passes with whatever mark it is that indicates ‘this person must be searched again, this time thoroughly’. This has happened twice to us after cross words at the check-in desk. We got straight through and onto the plane. Short journey landing in Chicago an hour and a bit later. Then found the next plane had been delayed by bad weather and almost as I read that, the skies clouded over and it began to rain. On a normal day that would have bothered me but on tours like this, all you want to do is get on the plane and doze. We were told it would be a four-hour delay so we had lunch and almost immediately heard a call for our flight. This time the flight was bumpy after a takeoff during which my stomach separated from the rest of my anatomy but I didn’t have the energy to care and dozed most of the way there. Came to as we were flying over the Rockies and approaching Seattle which was the most amazingly green city I have ever see from 24000 ‘. You could hardly see the houses for trees. Had to hire a car at the airport, which took forever and then a light supper at Gregory’s which offers the fattiest steak you will ever taste anywhere – even the waitress agreed. Then we fatswam then up to the room and a deep doze.
Sunday we drive to Portland which has to be the greenest drive between cities you will ever see. Firs, larches, spruces, pines, birches and beeches, oaks and cornus in full flower all along the route. Portland is a city with high buildings and a meths problem. As we drove to the gig, a couple of streets were lined with drinkers and all their paraphernalia –think there must have been welfare centre nearby because when we came out of the gig, there was literally a community of homeless people wrapped in blankets and lying in the doorways. The gig was nice – run by good people – good sound. Good food, anything you wanted really except they had not thought to put chairs and tables in front of the stage. The small tables were set around the edges leaving a large hole for Neil to look into in the centre of the room. Managed to get them to move some tables into the big hole but there were not enough chairs so people had to stand or sit on the stairs. They would know for next time they promised, but why didn’t they find out for this time I wonder. Seems like some venues hire people to perform they have no idea about. Anyway Neil performed well and the crowd were happy so all OK. Also we met a fantastic cello player, Gideon Freudman, Neil’s support act, so can’t be bad.
There was a hotel as part of the complex and wished someone could have thought to tell us so we didn’t have the long drive back to our hotel on the edge of town.
After the washing and swimming it was back to Seattle via the forest- lined route and to the Triple Door. This is a classy venue – more like a night- club with tiered seating, candles, waitress service etc. The stage is large with a tuned Steinway piano, and the greenroom relaxing. Food and drink are on call and the evening promises to be a good one. Indeed it is, as a good number of fans settle into their seats around 7.30. This is when I realise we are running out of merchandise, almost as we actually run out. Not good for fans but all is not lost as it is a good time to advertise Neil’s new website www.innesbookofrecords.com compiled and organised by Luke. It has a functioning shop from which the new album can be purchased plus anecdotes from Neil about each of the tracks. It introduces the new Radio Noir which will be up and running hopefully as Neil gets back from the states, and onto which he will be podcasting the multitudinous thoughts, anecdotes and ideas which pepper his febrile mind throughout his waking moments. There is also a page in which you will be able to send comments, only good ones will be accepted, about CDs, anecdotes – anything to do with Neil in fact.
Monday and we catch a plane to San Francisco for a gig at Cobbs Comedy Club. Bumpy again – very unsettled weather this side of the states. This is a not a gig day so we have time to explore. Staying in the Hotel Florence which is the best hotel so far. Has a really good feel about it – a happy experience with good food, service and rooms etc Ours happened to look out over our favourite store.
Wonderful breakfasts of fresh fruit salads and coffee which is what Neil imbibes these days. Also a bonus in that we were lucky to hook up with Ricky Fataar who is recording at the moment, so we had a happy supper and attempted to catch up over the last three years.
Cobbs has been taken over by one of those entertainment giants and it was obvious. Still a nice room and a great sound guy Kevin, but no food offered till too late for Neil to eat it and even a glass of wine was given with reluctance. The final blow was when they decided to hold part of Neil’s money back for tax. Neil had spent a lot of time in the UK sorting all this out. He has an ITN number and has filled in a W8, which to all you Americans, is what we need to do to prevent venues holding on to part of the money they were due to pay the artist, for tax. The thing here was that they had got the W8 and the ITN number but had not bothered to read it, so, clinging to the idea that most artists don’t bother to sort it all out, they still insisted on holding the money back. I’m sorry to say I used words that I used to stop my children saying and many of them. The thing is that travelling long distances is tiring and the good venues realise this and make sure you have all you need when you need it, so Cobbs is another venue off the GOOD VENUE list, I’m sorry to say, because when it was run by Tom Sawyer it was great.
And, at last, the drive along Highway 1. It was as stunning as I remembered from last time, only this time amazingly green. Last time there were huge areas of burnt- off grass, must have come at the end of a hot summer I guess, but this year the west coast, like just about everywhere else, has had more than its usual share of rain, so now all green and flowering. The sea looked inviting and we tried to find the motel we stayed in when we came here with Tom and JJ. From the outside, this motel had looked like any other motel but each of the cabins had hot tubs on the terrace at the back overlooking a wooded valley. It was blissful, so much so that I seem to remember Tom falling asleep in the hot tub and staying there till morning. Anyway we passed the motels too quickly, but we did find the seafood restaurant we had lunch in, right down by the sea at Fishermans Wharf, so we had lunch there again for old times sake.
Finally fetched up at a place called Ragged Point where we rented a flat on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. There was even a spa bath and a small restaurant serving good food. There was a furious wind which blew off the sea luckily, it was so strong it would have dragged us off the cliff if it had been blowing the other way. Watched the foaming deep greeny-blue Pacific and longed to dip at least my toes.
Still had a four and a half hour drive to Marina del Ray where we had booked a hotel, so we got on with it, stopping once to unlock our limbs and see if we could still walk. We arrived around 2pm to meet Bonnie and Laurie, two of our favourite Americans, who wanted to interview us both on all those little juicy bits of info, like where we met and how did I feel when Neil was approached by other women during the course of his work. We pointed out that Neil didn’t have that sort of groupie – people who liked Neil were usually bright and not into that sort of thing – at least that’s all I know. Might not have always been the case but too long ago now to think about. We were asked what made Neil write ‘Song for Yvonne’. Funny thinking back to those days. Neil was away a lot in the early Bonzo days which was when I had Miles, our first child. Being young and new at this sort of thing, I probably thought Neil was away having a good time while I was stuck at home with a baby doing boring housework.. Neil wrote this beautiful song to tell me not to undervalue what I was doing – he believed it was just as important as his work and it did make me feel a lot better. Neil has always had a very sane approach to his work – never being carried away with showbusiness and never forgetting basic values, which is why we are still together. I had the freedom to develop my interest in landscape design eventually forming my own company, with total backing from Neil. We stumble happily along parallel tracks occasionally merging and working together - sometimes I go along on Neil’s tours as tour manager, sometimes Neil helps me with a big project. We have grown older with a lot of respect for each other, which means that we can have all those tiffs about driving, or the way he does this or the way I do that but we don’t hang on to them. We give each other space to be, to get angry, to be awkward, to have opinions, to be upset, to be happy- hold the violins.
Today McCabes – a beautiful record store in Pico Boulevard. Neil has played there several times before and always it is such a pleasure to go there. They have a performance space at the back which holds about a hundred people. But the shop itself has instruments to slaver over – old and new. As well as photographs of all the old jazz musicians. They have rooms for teaching violin, guitar, cello etc – lucky kids who live near enough to go there. A fabulous audience including Martin Lewis and Emo Philips. How lovely to see them all. We only sees Emo about once every three years and he is such a lovely guy. He looks thin – lost about 40 ibs through just not drinking he says. Well Neil stopped drinking and started eating just salads etc and it has taken him quite a long time to lose 28Lbs – is Emo eating one wonders.
He is coming to do a literary/music festival which takes place near us, so I can spy. He is coming with Kipley his partner so should be a happy few days. Late to bed.
Late to rise, at least 9am by the time we stumble out of the hotel and drive up to Hollywood to have breakfast with Martin Lewis. In fact I had to excuse myself. Martin, even with no coffee is difficult to keep up with, he shoots ideas, words and thoughts through the air like bullets and I let Neil keep up with him and wander along the road just soaking up the sun. Around midday we drive to San Diego which turns out to be more like a 4 hour than a 2 hour drive. So no dipping our toes in the Pacific this year. By the time we get to San Diego it is time to set up. What I love about driving north to south along the west coast is the gradual turning of deciduous and coniferous forests, frothing ocean, dunes, vast open spaces to impossibly tall palms, and bright pink bouganvillea tumbling over walls lining the freeways. We both love this part of the world. Mexican architecture, heat, music. So now basking like landed whales in a small Italian restaurant in San Diego realising suddenly that Neil has only one more gig after this and we fly home on Monday. Realising too that we haven’t organised anyone to pick us up from Heathrow. About to phone home when we remember the eight hourtime difference. Decide to text and hope someone is available. Then on to the gig held in a simple Mexican- looking church. Beautifully simple. Run by a guy called Gary who used to have a band but decided to try and revive interest in eclectic music in San Diego instead. He’s a really energetic guy with a flotilla of helpers who organise food and beverage. Will definitely do this gig again. The audience was keen and appreciative doing all the band shouts with abandon.
Left around 11.30 and headed out to El Centro – about 150 miles east, to break the back of Sunday’s journey. The moon was bright which was good because the road led through mountain passes and we were aware of passing some amazing scenery snaking up and slaloming round and down, high winds buffeting the car and not being able to see a single thing – only dark shapes against the sky. We stopped for coffee and to check we were still awake, and then drove fairly slowly to the hotel arriving around 1.30. Around 6am the fire alarm went off and after ignoring it for several minutes we began to search for our clothes, determined not to end up outside with only sarongs to keep out the wind. Been there, done that. Couldn’t find clothes and were just about to grab sarongs when the alarm stopped. Fell back into a deep slumber till 9, while Neil tossed and turned unable to sleep after that rude awakening.. But there was a pool so we headed out to play in the water. Dipped toe in to find it was icy cold and although the air was warm, there was still a strong wind so decided to head for Phoenix and hope to find a pool there.
Whatever scenery there was along the route from San Diego to Phoenix was definitely passed through unseen the night before. Today we were faced with those long straight roads you see in films. Desert, whirling sand, rows of low malls with hotel chains like Comforts Inns, Microtel. RVs, Diners like Burger King, Subway, Applebys.
Overtaking cars and them overtaking you a few miles on, was the only amusement for hours. Impossibly long roads, some deep bright blue canals, tall bare stemmed palms with small green pompoms on top. The occasional freight train with endless containers saving about 200 lorries from blocking up the roads. Warren buffet is investing heavily in railways and on journeys like this you can see the benefits. Heard the mournful wail of these trains –one of my favourite sounds, just once in Rochester as the train crossed the road. No gates, just an open crossing where cars cross seconds before the train gets there. After Yuma a few tall stands of cactus joined the scrubby bushes and palms.
We got to the airport hotel about 2pm and found the venue was half an hour away, so a quick swim in a warm pool and off to the final gig of this tour. This was in Peoria near Phoenix at a place called Skye. The owner is English from Manchester and he built this club from scratch. Reminds me of The Triple Door in Seatle. There were two grand pianos in different parts of this venue-one on a raised dais had a CD player in it playing piano music. Not a huge audience but enthusiastic. A long drive back to Phoenix which I think must be off-putting for people. Back at the hotel we watched an Obama speech to some college graduates and was impressed again. There were so many good points that it was difficult to pick one out that was more important than the others. I think the phrase ‘you are all free to have your own opinions but not your own facts’ stuck out for me. He talked about people opposing for the sake of opposition, without thinking of the general good of every American. A long coherent speech and I really wanted to watch Fox news next morning to see which bits they had picked out. There were no bad bits in the speech, but with a little bit of editing they could make him appear to say something he didn’t say or bring the wrong emphasis to a sentence. Not sure whether it is illegal to tamper with speeches in the US, but I bet it happens.
Next day all we have to do is catch a plane late in the afternoon so we spend a lot of time by the pool, scraping up the beginnings of a tan. Packing seems impossible – even with sending half our clothes back to the UK, we still have a lot. At the airport we can use the business class lounge, so it’s tea and a glass of champers and a quick perusal of UK papers to check what has been going on apart from volcanoes erupting and elections about to happen. Nothing much it seems, so we board the plane confident it will all be the same when we get home. And it is.