Thursday, July 29, 1999

A White Thang

Well, here we are at the end of the tunnel, with just two dates left before we split up and scatter in a bunch for our summer break. Surely the Gods are telling us it's time after last night's experience at Chester, Virginia, where we got blown away half way through the set, as a windgust of frightening proportions descended from a gathering thunderstorm and took out Adam's drumkit, the mikes that surround it, the roof over the mixing desk (with Phil surrounded by punters trying to hold it down by the stanchions) and an ominous, deafening roar that I really thought was the onset of a tornado. Very scary indeed, and then the lightning started, followed by the inevitable rain etc., but what was incredible was that, with all this going on, some woman backstage came up to me and said, and I quote.."Why don't you go back on - the lightning's finished..." I can only assume she's been sruck directly a few times, and has therefore incurred the lack of cerebral functioning that often ensues such trauma. People are amazing!

I suppose it had to happen eventually, but really we have been incredibly lucky over the years, never having had a rain-out, or cancellation (before last night) due to weather - and we do plenty of outdoor concerts each year. Actually, now that I start to think about it, a funny 'Python-esque' scenario springs to mind.....Adam staggering off with a crash cymbal embedded in his neck, Phil disappearing aloft tethered to the remains of his tent roof...feet flailing, and the rest of us fried where we stand (in a puddle onstage), our hair vertically 'charged' in best Don King style....... Yes, madam, the lightning may well be 'finished' for you, but for the rest of us...........

For those of you who tune in - or should I say log on - to this almost-monthly ramble, from Britain, it may be hard to understand American weather in the months of July and August, and just what it is that everybody's going on about. I mean, you will know that by now some 120 or more people have died from heat this week, and storms have done for many more (and their belongings)..but yet, it doesn't quite seem real from that distance, given that "storms" around the UK are cold nasty windy things that blow your toupee off in winter, not summer, and surely, you must think, hype and exaggeration of the usual American TV-ad. style are at work here. Let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. You see, first, it's a great big motherf...... country - about 3,000 miles to the next bit of seaside, if you stand in New York and face west, and there's this huge steamer thingy that starts at the Gulf of Mexico and blows all this hot, hot air up the middle, and then it starts to see Canada, goes "f*#* that",turns around and wants to go east, toward civilisation and therefore New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, etc., etc., and, since it's got so far to go before getting to the seaside to get cooled off, it just keeps getting hotter and hotter daily, until it becomes one giant, explosive mass of unstable energy that simply has to vent its wrath on anyone who happens to be in its snarling, ugly path. Think of a drunk Scottish hooligan kept for a few days in an ever-warming sauna, only the alcohol is also continually topped up, too, and you might get the picture.

Now, however, we can rest our weary bus for a month or so, before resuming our rambling habits again in September. It's really been a super tour, and we have played to a lot of happy people, who have gone and told other people (who might not have been so happy, but will be when they come to the next one), and the reactions around the nation have been....well, stunning. It really is amazing to think that, after all these years, you never get jaded or tired of watching the slow, inexorable spread of wonder and pleasure on the faces of the hitherto sceptical and infidel. There's always the guy (yes, it's always a male - or two) who stands front and centre - usually a BIG guy - who wants to stare you down, and who will spend the first few tunes with his arms folded, and his jaw set in a defiant "come on then, see if you can impress ME" stance. Like the midget said, just before the nut in the bollocks, the bigger they come..........................

Fortunately, these are a tiny minority these days, but even they end up covered from head to toe in happy-happy-joy-joy, as Ren would say to Stimpy. Perhaps Shakespeare put it best when he wrote that....."Music hath charms, they say, to soothe the savage breast....." Well, certainly some music, and boy, do we see some savage breasts in our travels. Why just the other day - well, perhaps another time.............

What will we do with ourselves, you ask - well we won't be ringing each other up daily to see if we can all go to dinner together, and we will probably learn again how to do something for, and by ourselves, without having six or seven other opinions on just how it might have been done better, quicker, easier, different - I mean simple stuff, like......dressing, tying laces, feeding your face, ordering dinner, buying a paper, or going to the loo. Seriously, though (and we try not to be), it's a Looooove thing with us - I mean, we rib each other mercilessly and never resist an opportunity to mess with each other's shit, but it's never, ever with malice or disrespect. One merely finds it easier to deal with this itinerant busker's life if one can, sort of, adjust the circumstances for one's fellow-travellers a bit, lest boredom, fatigue, or disinterest set in, and then stagnation would surely follow. Only last night, after setting off on our usual overnight ride, we who were in the front lounge noticed an absence of a certain 'presence', and that absent presence, we realised, was none other than Onnie. On looking up the corridor, I noticed that his bunk was curtained tightly, meaning he was in bed, nighty-night, tucked up, and not joining the nightly post-mortem drinky-poos. "Ah," said Eliot, "it's only a matter of time before the sweaty foot pokes out from the curtain....." at which point, the drapes parted and McIntyre - fully clothed - swung himself out of his bunk, and straight across into the loo in one ballet-like jetee, much to the surprise of one and all. All at once, like a swarm of ants going into cohesive and coordinated endeavour without ANY visible signal or sound, his bunk was filled with: a case of Heineken, two pairs of shoes, a waste basket, and whatever sundry other things that came instantly to hand in a five-second burst. Now, even the army would admit that it's a certain kind of empathy that causes such spontaneous military action, and I use this little tale merely to illustrate the warmth, love, and understanding we have for each other. Needless to say, Onnie might not have felt the full glow of that 'love' as he parted his curtains in his bleary-eyed attempt to regain the sanctuary of his cosy bunk. In fact, as shoes, waste basket and other items came hurtling down the bus, I fear he may have missed the point entirely, now that I come to think of it. Ah, well, such is life in the Queen's own regular Average White Band. I think you'll agree, however, that we do indeed deserve a break, before gibbering lunacy sets in, and we start losing men one by one, like shipwrecked sailors on a shrinking desert island, whose food and time have all run out. As the song says, -See you in September.


Thursday, July 1, 1999

White Page Bulletin

It's amazing the things one discovers out here on Life's great highway. Had we not, for instance, stopped at this particular hotel in Indianapolis and had I not had time to kill (or at least maim horribly), I would not now know how to survive a hotel fire - in five different languages. I mean, who publishes these things?.........are these professional hacks who have fallen on hard times, or former pulitzer prizewinners who enjoy knocking out the odd macabre pamphlet and then travel round the country checking to see how many hotels have their gripping little piece of lifesaving literature waiting for the next potential "victim" to check in, and, having nothing else to read, pick up before retiring to bed, only to be then plagued with nightmares involving wet towels, alarm bells, forgetting how many exits, being unable to get the words (and I quote here) "Fire, Fire" out of their soundless mouths.......... The mind boggles.

Looking back on the first quarter of the summer tour, we seem to be blessed with good fortune, great gigs - one, in particular, at the Hampton Jazz Festival last Saturday was a bit of a triumph all round and we were able to meet a lot of the audience next day and bask in their acclaim and general bonhomie - and a fairly seamless transition from Catfish, on drums, who is moving to Los Angeles with his wife and young family, to young Adam Deitch from Boston's Berklee music school, who is stirring up audiences already with his fiery groove, and his appealing personality. This has never been an easy gig for any but the best of drummers, but Adam stepped into the first one without any rehearsal and had almost all of it down solid. To say he was nervous on that first gig would be an understatement. He flopped down on the dressing room couch for about four minutes of congratulatory babble from the rest of us, then got up to grab a soda from the ice bucket, leaving behind him - and we have a photo to prove it - a complete "shadow" of himself in sweat! He still sweats, all right, but no longer from the nervous energy of that very first night - it's a kinder, gentler sweat, generated by funk, not fear. Otherwise, things seem to be fairly quiet out here in the Midwest and that's just fine by us. Nobody needs the thrill-a-minute stuff while touring, save for the actual performances themselves, as it's always hazardous enough travelling around with lots of night driving and the nutcase factor that seems to pervade so many road users the minute they assume control (I use the term loosely) of an automobile.

I think the word "point" would be more apt than "drive" in describing the haphazard and downright negligent use of vehicular transport that we see daily - you know, the left arm hanging out the window, the other arm straight in front with the wrist dangling over the top of the steering wheel, barely making any kind of contact whatsoever with that particular organ of captaincy - one good bump, and they're all over the place, usually right in front of our coach which is basically a four-ton projectile hurtling along behind them (they don't know - the mirror's just for checking the 'do') with a stopping range of about half a mile. Kind of like an ocean liner trying to heave-to for an errant rowing boat. Anyway, we keep our fingers crossed for Divine protection through the rest of our travels. Think of it as a kind of quid pro quo spiritual insurance policy ("Almighty Insurance Inc"?) where the premium is a whole lotta' good vibes and musical input, and in return we get a maximum-coverage heavenly policy to speed us safe on our way. It all helps ease the mind when you crawl into your bunk of a night.

We are now set to undertake the most arduous section of the tour, and possibly the most rewarding, too, with first Milwaukee's Summerfest, then New Orleans' Essence Festival, and thirdly Memphis's Fourth of July celebrations coming up one after another. We will also cover two thousand miles in the completion of those events, and all in the next four days! Yikes.......maybe I should have stuck in at school and become an accountant. Nah, it'd never work, would it.......I mean, who in the world needs a singing accountant, regaling his clients with chanted variations of their tax return, or an arithmetical aria for an expense account topped off with, for an encore, a soulful spreadsheet........ Let's not go there.

Sorry, I digress. That's what the endless flatlands of Indiana will do to you - where there is nothing, the mind must fill in the blanks, and so mine tends to wander to the horizons of the ridiculous - and there is plenty of fodder for that, let me assure you. Just last night the hotel concierge was telling me about a decommisioned army base which had been turned into a large new golf course. He went on to say that it was "real interesting place, where you get to play around all kinds of things........" At that point my mind went a-wandering to this vision of attempting to thread a skilful nine iron onto the green, avoiding the tank-trap which has snagged so many of today's competitors, and I could just hear Peter Allis' voice saying, "Oh, dear he won't be happy with that one; the last chap who went into that bunker came up with six months' rations of tinned food and a glowing sandwedge......"

Lastly, a bulletin: Fred's doing quite well after his thermal brush with disaster, and has been taken off the critical list and is now in stable condition. You see, in the quest of a solution for the eternal dilemma of keeping stage clothes in presentable condition, Fred (our resident Einstein) decided that a portable steamer would be the answer, and so had a friend of ours in DC take him to a nearby mall. As a result the events unfolded thus: Fred buys steamer, Fred LOVES steamer, and talks about steamer daily..........Fred wonders, just as he's about to go onstage, if, in the interest of speed and elegance, Fred could use steamer while pants are on. As I say, his knee is doing fine, now.

Trouble is, this same friend wants to take ME golfing, next time.

Maybe that army base.........................................?