Gig Journal 2010

 

 

 

Dec 21, 2010

 

Gig Journal 2010

or...

How NOT to make it in the Music Biz.

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Green Frog

Dec 18, 2010

Pacific Arts Fair

An hour after finishing up at the Farmers Market we were playing at the Pacific Arts Fair round the corner.
We played a lot of stuff that we'd played earlier but tried to mix in some songs we hadn't played yet. It's nice to have that option. I guess that's where our practices stood us in good stead. I wonder just how many different songs we've played in the past few years together. Must be a fair bunch.

Anyway I really enjoyed this little gig. It was nice to be out of the cold. A bunch of the folks who'd been hanging out at the market had followed us round the corner. So the festive spirit continued.

We played for about an hour and rounded off a year in the life of James Higgins and the Muddy Boots band with Cardboard Box. It's fun to play and I think audiences can tell that we enjoy performing it. I guess it's our current hit within the ranks.

Merry Christmas when it comes.
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Christmas Hit.

Speaking of hit songs…..

The very first real Rock Band I saw in concert was Slade. I was about 16 years old. They were playing at the Glasgow Apollo around the merry month of June 1981 (?).
They burst on stage and thrashed furiously through their set. They were playing everything so fast that they were finished in 45 minutes. They waved goodnight and left the stage.
The crowd called out for more. Possibly because they loved the music but more likely they just wanted their money's worth.
The band returned but seemed to have run out of steam.
The only song they had left in their repertoire was their big hit single which they launched right into with spectacular abandon…….
And the crowd jumped right in too.

……."So here it is merry Christmas. Everybody's having fun.
Look to the future now….. etc"

Not a song you expect in mid Summer but I guess there's always time for a Christmas hit. A little out of context perhaps but the audience lapped it up and sang it word for word.
Scotland is pretty cold all year round anyway. I've seen snow in June. So it often felt like December (though it seldom felt like Christmas).

The fade out memory I have of that concert was of Noddy Holder the singer swaying back and forth on stage. He was holding a tartan scarf above his head as Gene Kelly sang "Singing in the Rain" over the PA system.
The crowd were drifting out and the lights were going on, but he was still up there belting it out on his own.
As I shuffled out the exit and into the June night, I heard him yell, "Merrrrry Chrrrrismas everybody".

Dec 18, 2010

last Day of the Farmers Market

This was a good little gig considering we started at the crack of 11:30 in the morning.
We were in a good humour and once we warmed up we were in festive form.
I had one of those little hand warmers tucked into the small of my back. It kept me quite toasty. Don't know about the rest of the guys. Rick the market manager had kindly provided a gas heater which did help a little but you can't stick that into your trousers....

The market hadn't nearly so many vendors as in Summer. I think the freeze up last month killed off vast herds of them. Most of the surviving vendors huddled inside the actual building but there were a few brave stall minders outside in the cold who seemed to appreciate our little musical distraction.

The "stage" was set up in the middle of the car park and I believe we were closer to La Fiamma pizzeria than the main market. It did cross my mind that the dish washer in there was making a better living than me. (And I should know because that was where I last held gainful employment.)

Before we began, Rick came over to check we were doing fine. He asked us to keep the volume under control so as not to interfere with business bartering. I looked around. We were the only ones there.

So we started off with Wang Dang Doodle which I'd changed all the words to. Now it was a very tongue in cheek Santa Clause adventure. Not that it mattered as there was no one to hear it. So it went well.
In fairness though, a small crowd did gather round and I even sold a CD. Tips were generous too. They may have been there to listen to us or they may have heard about our heater. Who knows but they were very appreciative.

A bunch of my ex La Fammians co-workers were hanging out too and so a friendly, sociable atmosphere began to develop. Nikki was there. So was Justin and Kirsten and Oliver. Joel was up from Portland, Patricia from my art class passed by. Hil and Ronan were there. Friendly faces everywhere. Maybe it was my big floppy top hat that put a smile on chilly faces. It certainly has character. Sort of Dr Seusse-ish. I picked it up in a toy store a few weeks back.

Musically, I think we played quite well. We nailed the end of Annecy good and tight. It started snowing in the middle of playing it which was lyrically ironic. I guess that also went largely un-noticed.
One woman said, "You are a very unique band." Not sure if that was a compliment or an insult. I said, "Thanks, you're quite unique yourself.'

So a good little gig.
……Or maybe it was the heater.

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Dec 12, 2010

Pacific Arts

I quite enjoyed this little gig. I was signed up for an hour but played an extra 30 minutes.
I was surprised by the size of the stage. It was big. Big enough to walk about on. That's unusual.

Anyway I played a bunch of acoustic songs and everyone seemed quite happy.
I must say though that their PA seemed to lack volume. We had it cranked but it really wasn't very loud. It wouldn't be a problem while I am solo and acoustic but I'll be there again on Saturday with the Muddy Boots Band. When drums and bass kick in, the vocals will be drowned out. (Maybe not a bad thing). We'll see what happens.

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Dec 11, 2010

Allied Arts

I plugged in to the PA system for this one but kept the volume really low. Not much to report. A pleasant enough afternoon singing and farting about on my guitar.

Fun songs of the day? The Henhouse and Singing in the Rain.
Mockingbird / Band Zant were on after me. They seemed to enjoy the Henhouse song. Robin teased me with the idea of Mockingbird doing it acapella. Ha! That made me laugh. I wasn't sure if she was serious or not but she has my permission to try. I have no doubt that they'd do it well. Maybe they could do it in a Triplets of Belleville style. Ha ha. Who knows? I look forward to hearing it.

I bet it would be a freaky feeling if I unexpectedly heard someone singing a song that I wrote. Hard to picture right enough. And when I heard it, would I recognize it? Would it be like hearing it for the first time? Would I be embarrassed? It's embarrassing enough singing them myself.
It must be like looking in a mirror and saying, "Who's that ugly guy?" Then realizing, "Oh it's me."

I write songs but I never really get to hear them just as songs. I'm too close to them. We only have a working relationship. It would be a sweet moment to hear and enjoy a song I wrote before I recognized it. To listen and judge with an innocent unbiased ear would be a gift and a true test of good or bad. Wouldn't that be a useful effects pedal? Or a computer program that played your song in the voice and style of various bands in order to give you distance. It would also be a great way to pitch songs to a particular artist.
Call it the Imprint pedal or Song Cloak Software or Resound. What about Listen Glass? (Mmm. I like that).

Just thinking out loud.
No doubt I'll never know.

Dec 4, 2010

bellingham flea Market

Good little practice session with lots of D tunings. I played Chocolate Girl for old times' sake.
Also played Norwegian Wood, Cluck Old Hen, May You Never, Dandelion, Singing in the rain. A lot of fun stuff.
Ronan didn't feel well again (he was sick last night) and Hil took him home early. I took the bus home.
I haven't been on the bus much since I took a break from college. It was odd to be sitting there again discreetly sketching faces. Just like old times.

Dec 3, 2010

Honeymoon

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots

I guess this was a decent enough gig.
Not much to add.
Some fun moments and a few disasters.
All's well that ends well.

Thanks for the lift home Dave.

Nov 27, 2010

Bellingham Flea Market

As ever a fun little gig. The people were fairly generous.
I swapped a CD for an art lesson from a portrait painter called Orion. Ronan and Hil played air hockey and Hil bought a book on how to hot rod a VW bus.
Biggest hit of the day? Mari's Wedding in open D tuning.

Nov 26, 2010

Allied Arts

A non descript hour of acoustic tunes. Basically background music for Christmas shoppers.

They came, they saw, they did a little shopping.

Nov 21, 2010

Yoga Canoe Film Fest

This was actually quite a fun gig right next door to the Boundary Bay. We played about an hour. (Me, Dave, Phil and Donald.)

Despite the fact we were playing in a gymnasium, the atmosphere was quite pleasant. Perhaps it was the mirrors on the wall or the kids' carpeted play area. Somehow it wasn't so vast and echoing like I'd expected.
I'd say there were about 40 or 50 people present. I think they were all members of a local paddling club. I guess this was their annual potluck.
They were showing a movie too about water sports. We were the pre-movie entertainment. People had come for the whole event and not particularly to see us. So we were relaxed and just blended into the ambience.

I may have imagined it but it felt like bum notes were conspicuously absent. I suppose that's because we only played an hour which meant we were able to play the stuff we like or know best. I do believe we played well and for once there were witnesses.
It does make me wonder what we could achieve if we actually practiced a bit more regularly. I think we have about 12 practices a year. Most decent bands have about 52.

I really enjoy our current version of Who'll Rock that Cradle. Dave keeps it cruising along yet it's still kind of spooky
.
While we were playing Blowing Down the River, there was a guy paddling an exercise canoe. That's a first. Made me laugh. I think it made a few people laugh. He was in perfect time with the song. Mmm, I think I feel a new dance move coming on.

I still can't fathom why I still have distortion problems with microphones through my little PA. The guitar is always fine but microphones sound like Dr Who and the Daleks.
Maybe I'm naturally distorted.

Nov 20, 2010

Flea Market

Flea Market Nov 20

A non eventful hour of acoustic tunes.
Played Cripple Creek Ferry. Can't even remember the last time I pulled that one out.
Saw a bass guitar for sale. Looked in good condition. I would have been tempted to buy it if I could have tried it out. My bass is so big and bulky. This one was quite compact. I'm sure it wasn't the best but neither is the one I have. It only had 3 strings. I should have felt right at home.

Nov 16, 2010

Green Frog

A tree came down in the wind and landed across the driveway just before we were set to go into town. Not a small tree. This was a big old waterlogged alder. Must have been 50 feet tall. Now it's 50 feet long. We had to hack and saw our way out of the yard.
I think a tree came down around this time last year too.

Anyway the gig was fine.
The band comprised of me, Dave, Phil and Donald. The first set was good and felt like we were fairly cooking. But at the break the clientele began to drift out and our energy levels dropped accordingly. It's only natural.

All the same, Phil pulled off some ripping slide and Dave played what must be the first ever egg shaker solo I've ever witnessed. Which also makes it the best ever too. Donald manned the bouncer chair by the door but as there was no door fee, I guess he was just jamming long distance. Sounded good though.

In fact we had a pretty good sound check, dialed in by the same barmaid as before. I guess she twiddled the same knobs as last time too. I must ask her for the recipe.

The punters, despite their slow leak out the door, were appreciative in an inebriated sort of way. They nodded more than they clapped but tipped less than they whooped.

Ultimately it was a decent gig but I had a heavy deflated feeling at the end: a dangerous indifference to that familiar realization that no one could care less about music or musicians. The crowd was there for cheap beer. We were simply an added sideshow distraction and we had to like it or lump it.

It's far too easy to become apathetic when you're regularly playing for bad tips and sporadic applause. After a while you begin to believe it's all your worth. Bar owners should note that they will eventually end up getting what they paid for: namely unmotivated, uninspired musicians. Egg shaker solos aren't cheap.
For the sake of this bands survival, we need some wild weekend high paying gigs.

It does make me realize that it's been a while since I've played a real outgoing Saturday night gig with an energetic audience in attendance. It seems we are currently banished to Backwater Tuesdays for the duration of a long dark Winter.
Roll on Summer.
Jeez, and it's only November.
Ha! Welcome to Bellingham: the little town that's going through the motions.

The tree fell in our garden and I heard it. But if a band plays in an empty bar does anybody hear it?
If a band played in a bar full of deaf and blind people would it not exist at all?
If a tree fell on a dive bar would anybody care? Or would nobody notice?

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But talking of Saturday gigs…..
Years ago, me and JB managed to somehow get ourselves a Saturday night gig in the Harp in Regensburg. I have no idea how, because Wee John had that gig sewn up tight since the place first opened.
The news seemed to generate a buzz. Perhaps we'd bummed ourselves up a bit much and people were expecting something spectacular. Maybe we were just a change in the monotony.

So who can hurt a person better than their best friend?
Let me state here that my intention herein is not to hurt JB's (or anyone's) feelings in the telling of these tales of our misadventures. But for better or worse, our musical histories and learning curves are so entwined that people such as JB or Frank or PJ and Hil are all influences that are impossible to omit from the big picture. I try not to judge. I just write the deeds and consequences. They are open for individual interpretation. I wasn't exactly a saint myself.
But for now, don't shoot the messenger.

JB and myself had played music together a lot over the years but hadn't played together in a long time. In fact JB had only recently moved to Munich from Scotland while I'd been in Regensburg a couple of years. JB had made an impression on the natives during his previous visits to Regensburg. He was a clown and he could really make folks laugh. We would spend days together in knots of convulsive laughter. He'd do silly stuff like stand at a busy bus stop with a bucket on his head. This was the fun side of JB that everybody loved. But then he'd spoil his welcome by singing The Sash in an Irish pub and insulting everyone. This wasn't quite so entertaining.

I believe he often experienced four emotional seasons in one day. Maybe more. Some of them may have been new to medical science. Luckily Regensburg was so full of nuts that one more made no difference.

But it's testimony to JB's charismatic personality that even today, when I run into old friends; their 2nd question is inevitably, "So any news from JB?"

I always felt he was trying to go somewhere in his mind that he couldn't quite reach.
Perhaps the gig business wasn't the best career choice for JB. It has too many ups and downs. It's a very temperamentally unstable way to make a living. Saturday night's adulation is often followed by cruel Sunday morning busking on a city corner. Who needs downers when you’re a musician? It's depressing enough. It could turn a man to drink.

No wonder there are so many Rock n Roll deaths. We only ever hear about the famous ones. Sadly for every newsworthy celebrity death, there are thousands of anonymous wretches lost down behind the sofa cushions. Countless unmarked graves line the byways of rock n roll. It's a dog's life. Maybe that should be their communal epitaph.

Reliable isn't really the word I'd use to describe JB but having said that, I must admit he always showed up for gigs and practices. He may have miscalculated his sobriety but he was there. He loved jamming. We both did. We'd jam till we literally dropped. I think music gave him a grip and a goal in life. An unsteady grip was better than none.
I still have some of our live jams on tape. I always thought I should put them on CD and release them as a comedy. A dark comedy.
But none of that was what we were talking about……

…….Well when folks heard we were playing Saturday night in the Harp, they began to reserve seats. They had to see first hand what mischief these two chancers were up to?

So there we were on a Saturday night in a bar jammed to the rafters with expectant faces turned towards us awaiting revelation. What they got was…. "Whiskey in the Jar."

But it was enough.
It certainly helped that Reinhold Speck (known as Spock), Regensburg's local guitar guru was playing lead guitar with us.
We had a great night. There was ticker tape and balloons. The crowd cried out for more. And to be fair we really did give them all we had. We'd even kept our beer intake in single digits and didn't smoke any hash within 2 hours before the gig. Yes, such discipline. We were truly suffering for our art.
Nevertheless when the gig was over, we drank and smoked our brains out and JB still managed to insult anyone within earshot. And then we all went home, basking in the warm fuzzy glow of a good gig.

To this day there is only one song I recall playing from that night. Neil Young's Southern Pacific which we'd mixed with Ghost Riders in the Sky. I've no idea what else we played but we must have done something right or was it just that it was a Saturday gig?
We didn't pursue the matter too closely. We were content in our ignorance to believe that overnight we had become the world's greatest rock and roll sensation since the Sliced Bread Band. There was talk of more gigs with more pay. The future was bright.
Tee-shirts, badges, posters. Autographs in the foyer. Last of the Choc Ices…….
Unfortunately the Harp boss wasn't there on that night but the barman said he'd put a word in for us.

The next evening I had a solo gig in a little Bayerish Wald town called Cham. JB was still in town so he drove me up. He packed his bass guitar just in case there was a chance to jam.
This gig was in a disco. The walls of the dance floor were mirrored. I guess this was so that people could dance with themselves. Or if they had just woken up somewhere in the neighbourhood and had a shower but no mirror, they could drop in to comb their hair. As it was, the place was deserted. The only reflection was mine and it wasn't dancing and my hair hadn't been combed in a week.
.
So five minutes before show time the place was basically empty. I asked JB if he'd like to play a few tunes on bass. He immediately pressed his Self Destruct button on his chest and gulped down 2 beers and 2 Jaegermeisters. He then tuned his bass and passed out drunk, right at my feet like he'd blown a fuse. The whole scenario from start to finish took less than 5 minutes. Very impressive.
It was certainly an interesting answer to my question.

There I was at the microphone with JB curled up at my feet like a baby in a womb, when in walks an English musician I knew called Paul. He played in a band with his girlfriend. They performed in Regensburg quite often. I asked him if he wanted to play some bass. He said he didn't really play bass but he'd give it a go. So with JB conked out at our feet, we played every three chord song that came to mind. Wild thing, Born to be Wild, Heaven's Door. We bashed them out for a solid 2 hours.
I mentioned I thought he was doing pretty well for a guy who didn't play bass. He said thanks and added that he wasn't right handed either.

Paul seemed indifferent to JB lying on the floor at our feet. I guess he'd met Scotsmen before. A few dancers grooved past sporadically. They shot us some odd looks but were more interested in their reflections. Some had possibly just woken up because they were combing their hair a lot.
The boss, who was also English, came in at one point and looked doubtfully down at JB who showed no signs of waking or combing his hair.
He was about to say something when Paul spoke up. "It's alright. He's Scottish."
The boss nodded slowly then he left again. I guess he'd met Scotsmen before too. But it's a sad state of affairs in the ex-pat community when such events can be justified with a quick, "It's alright he's Scottish."

Towards the end of the evening JB rose from the dead. He stood and scowled accusingly at the world before reaching into his back pocket and producing a dented harmonica. Then in perfect irony, he checked he was in the right key and joined right in. Quite the band.

After the gig, we got an uncomfortable night's rest in the parking lot. A few hours later JB somehow drove us back to Regensburg in the pre dawn light.
We were in Ambrosias Café by 9am. I ordered a coffee. JB ordered a whisky. Then another. Then a beer. Then another.

At this point the boss from the Harp walked in. JB proceeded to try talk business with him about future gigs. The boss was very interested at first till he realized that JB was talking gibberish. All he could comprehend was something about, "Bishnish" and "Jaimsh ish the bosh" with lots of Ochs and Ayes mixed in.
JB had transformed from rock star into a slurring Scotsman. No doubt the Boss was wondering if this was the very same guy who had rocked his pub just 2 days previously.
Suddenly in mid discussion, JB stood up and gave a passionate Hitler salute to the breakfasting clientele and goose stepped out the door.
The boss looked at me. "He's had a few hasn't he?"
I said, "It's alright he's Scottish."
And the boss said, "Yes, I could tell by the way he walked".

So ended negotiations.

We never did play the Harp again together but I didn't lose any sleep over it. We played a lot of other places with The Lost Cause and the latter day Izzy Skint. Each one was progressively more chaotic than the last. But those are other tales.
Years later, it turned out that JB had developed an ulcer. I guess that explained why he kept being sick. But it didn't explain why he was a nut. (Yes I know, "It's alright, he's Scottish.")

Somehow, despite the chaos that always surrounded us, we remained friends over the years. But it was certainly a balancing act.
Life is fairly quiet at the moment.
Maybe on reflection, I should consciously avoid Saturday nights.
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Nov 6, 2010

Bellingham Flea Market

Solo.
Another easy going hour of acoustic music. These little sessions really force me to revisit a lot of songs I used to know but abandoned over the years. I think I only played 3 songs that I do with the Muddy Boots. I even played Girl in a Redwood and my old open tuning version of Tramper Ticket.
Not much to report really. Spoke to a few more of the vendors. Definitely an interesting bunch of alternative people.
Also saw a good looking violin for 50 dollars. That's 50 dollars more than I've got.

Oct 23, 2010

Bellingham flea Market

A low key but enjoyable experience. Sang an hours worth of songs and sold a couple of CDs.
It's a pleasant venue for acoustic experimentation. I threw in quite a few of open D tuning songs.
I think I played half the songs from my old "Live at the Alte Malzerei" CD. Remember these ditties? Praying for a leap year, Diamond Lil, Like I Been Walking. I should dig out The Life O' Riley.

Another musician had shown up at the same time as me. He'd thought that he was scheduled to play but it turned out that his slot was directly after mine. I offered to swap but he declined the offer and left.

An hour later as I was finishing up, I was thinking to myself that business had been suspiciously slow. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the same guy from earlier was busking right outside the window. One of the stall holders said he'd been started up at the same time as me.

"Cheeky bleeper" I thought. Fortunately I'd sold a few CDs but if I hadn't I'd have been seriously pissed off.
Whatever happened to busker etiquette? Where's the respect for the unwritten codes of conduct that keep the peace. Simple stuff like, don't hog the pitch or don't play too close to another busker.
Yer Man outside the window seemed to have his own set of rules.

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Back in Europe, an experienced full time busker would probably play a one hour pitch then switch to somewhere else. This gives shopkeepers a break and gives other buskers a fair chance.
As I busked across Europe, I noticed that buskers of most nationalities (especially in Germany) were very good at adhering to this common sense rule.
Personally I never crowded another busker. It was as bad for my business as it was for theirs.
In France, busking was sometimes a chaotic free for all of first come first served. Acts often set up in the morning and didn't leave till closing time. There was a hint of desperation to busking in France. The Peruvian bands were notorious for setting up at dawn and playing the same spot till evening. It was bad news for any penniless solo busker who had just hitched into town. His best bet was to just keep hitching out the other side of town.

Around Europe, many towns wisely had busking rules. These rules differed from town to town but generally they were fair. In Basil and Freiburg for example, busking could only take place at certain times. My first time in Basil I didn't know this and within seconds I had been filed in a policeman's black book and told that next time there would be a hefty fine.
In Heidelberg, busking hours were 4 till 7 and only at designated places. In some towns, permits were required. Often they were free or inexpensive. The hardest part was usually trying to find the office. In Bamberg, I remember walking for miles along the river to get the license.
Munich only issued 10 licenses a day. Five for the morning and five for the afternoon. But they were free.
In Schaffhausen in Switzerland, the permit was expensive but worth it in the end. I played there a couple of times and always had the place to myself.

Nurnberg had no significant rules at all that I noticed.
Harry was busking there one day with his guitar. The Peruvians set up right beside him and started playing. This of course pissed Harry right off. The Peruvians outnumbered him 5 to 1. They had drums, guitars, flutes, ukuleles and 5 voices. That's a lot of ammo.
Harry tried to keep playing but he was drowned out.
I guess the Peruvians must have derived some smug satisfaction when they saw Harry put down his guitar and count his money. But they got a shock when he opened another case and started tuning up a set of Highland bagpipes.
If you've never experienced the pipes at full throttle at close range then let me tell you it is frightening. You may scream but no one would hear you. They are deafening.
If you are having trouble with vampires in your attic and crucifixes and garlic aren't working, then I recommend the Highland bagpipes. Don't use those fart cushion eillean pipes, they would just annoy a vampire then you'd be in more trouble.
Harry gave the Peruvian band the full blast at point blank range. To their credit they defiantly held their ground. Soon a huge crowd had assembled to witness this epic battle of the bands. What a stramash.
The Peruvians finally crumbled and left. One of them tipped his hat and smiled in resignation as if to say, "Well done, you win".

The lesson here being, don't mess with an angry Scotsman and his bagpipes. Both are instruments of torture.

Oct 19, 2010

Green Frog: James Higgins and the Muddy Boots Band

The Frog wasn't exactly hopping but there were lots of friendly faces in the place. Kim and Ben from Brookstock had shown up with their neighbour. That was a very nice surprise. Muriel from the Humane Society was there. Dave had brought in a bit of a crowd too.
With such a friendly audience we couldn't help but be inspired.

The barmaid's Sound check was fairly solid too. She came over about a minute before we started, took a few quick notes then absently twiddled a knob or two and we were off and sounding fine. Good job and credit where it's due.

I used my own mic for a change. It seemed to work okay.
It's amazing what a decent sound check, some friends and a solid band can do for a performance. It felt like the whole bar was on the same page. We were very relaxed and tried out some odd songs and there was a lot of good natured banter.
Even old standards sounded good. Dave really puts us all in the groove. We bravely attempted the bouncy house even though Dave had never heard it. It was a bit wobbly but we got through it.

Most notable aspect of this gig was that we really shuffled things up a bit. We played The Henhouse in the first set. That was Phil's idea and a good one too as it turned out because the place had quietened down by the second set.

Most enjoyable songs of the evening for me were Any Old Time, Who'll Rock That Cradle, Injara and Weeping Willow. They all had a good feel.
It really is a great luxury to have such a large selection of songs to pick and chose from. We are slowly becoming our own juke box.

Maybe it would be interesting to introduce some moodier haunting stuff like Browse round My Junk Shop, or B Movie or The Secret Circus. They might prove useful in the right atmosphere.

I guess I'm so used to the Irish pub gig mentality where playing a slow song can get you sacked on the spot. The shepherd's crook appears and you're yanked off stage as an emotionless metallic tanoy voice calls out, "Next".

I remember Pat was working as a barman in the Shamrock Irish bar in Munich. There was music 7 days a week. One evening there was a duo playing some sort of barbershop music. I think they called themselves Matching Ties. They were on stage on barstools looking neat and tidy, singing away with banjos, "By the Light (by the Light) of the Silvery Moon." Just doing their thing when quick as an ambush, Pat charges out from behind the bar and stuffs a wet mop right in the singer's face. "Ooomph" Then he gives it a good swish round like he was cleaning a tough stain off a window. "Ye've somethin in yer eye there boy."

As you can guess, Pat was mad as a hat stand and a bag of hammers. He was laughing hysterically as he did this. And to be honest, it was funny. "Right lads, tat's enough o' tat nonsense. Out the door witt ye."
It was Pat of course who was actually shown out the door. He was sacked. But then again he was always getting sacked. He was back at work about a week later. He may have been nuts but hey, he was a good barman.

How mad was Pat? To quote a cliché about onions. After you peel off all those layers of madness and really get down to the core of the man, you'll find at the centre, a little tiny bunch of over-ripe bananas.

Having said that, I considered Pat a friend (probably we were both insane). There was a pinch of sanity about him. He wasn't exactly nuts; he just had a mad streak. His sensibilities must have been stashed inside one of those bananas.
But that's not really what we were talking about. I think we were discussing the fine line between art and entertainment. I guess it's not about the picture; it's all about the frame.

I don't know how Pat would react to spooky music in the Shamrock. I don't think I'll chance it till I need a good spring cleaning.

But in The Green Frog they don't seem to mind it. It's a dark kind of spooky place. Rumour has it that they are on the verge of closing down. Which is a shame. I kind of liked the place.

There seems to be a disturbing financial pattern in Bellingham. It goes like this. A new business arrives, opens, closes, new business arrives, opens, closes, new business arrives, opens, closes.
One thing I notice about every bar that flaps its shingle then disappears, is that few of them paid their musicians. What's the significance of that? The puzzle here is, if a bar owner knew in advance that there would be bills he couldn't afford then why did he open a business?

It was Michael Lynch who growled the following words at me one day in Regensburg, "James I'm f***ing sick of feeling sorry for F***ing bar owners. They all come at ye with that little f***ing tear in their eye when it comes time to pay the musician. I'm sick of the greedy bastards. It's not our fault they can't run their own business."
I think he'd just had a recent run in with an Irish bar owner in Nurnberg.
And he had a point too. Many do expect instant miracles from live music. When their business fails, the musician is the first one to have his wages cut.

I remember Harry walking into the Dubliner in Regensburg to play a gig. It was a hot Summer night and the place was deserted. He didn't even glance at the owner but stormed up to the stage, plugged in and played the gig. He knew if he'd stopped to chat then that would be the end of any hope of payment. Instead he waited till the end, got paid and left.
Big D the barman shook his head and said, "That'll be the last time he works here."
That made me laugh. I almost choked on my Thurn und Taxis. I looked around the deserted run down bar. The dive to end all dives. A seriously flogged dead horse.
Then I left too. I'd only popped in to see Harry.

Oddly enough, that bar hung on by the skin of its teeth for a long time. It was rarely busy. They made cut back after cutback but still had occasional music that paid something. I think they only closed because the city had decided to renovate the whole street. The bar may even have gotten compensated. Now that's luck.

It's funny how so many American bars will happily invest money to buy materials to build a stage, then more money to pay someone to build it. They go out and buy speakers and monitors and mixers.
They spend money on advertising. They hire bar staff and cooks and sound engineers. They may even renovate the entire building and erect flashing stage lights on stage. It would be hard to deny that they are building anything but a music based business. They open their doors and wait. And it's like they've been constructing an elaborate trap. When the trap is fully set, sure enough the musicians come sniffing round like poor church mice at a baited cheese.
Before the musicians know it, the trap has been sprung and they're on stage, working for crumbs and, "a unique opportunity to showcase their talents". Bar owners seem to have copped on to this remarkably predictable behavior and turn it to their advantage.
But it seems to be a short term success. The better acts soon get bored being humoured and go wherever any money is. Those same mice that came sniffing for cheese also know when a ship is sinking.
The pub dies. Few cry.

I wish The Green Frog good luck. I enjoy playing there. I don't think the owner is a bad guy. I think he really has tried to give some decent music and beer to Bellingham. The Green Frog is a very basic product but that seems to be the attraction of the place. I think it's one of the few venues in town where my music fits.
Maybe they should have a "Pay the Rent" gig once a month. I might even support it because in the end we're all in this together. If the rent was paid, perhaps we'd get paid too. Then we'd be able to pay our own rents.
I think there's a faint glimmer of an idea in there. A once a month all day live music fund drive.

As I recall, the Shamrock in Munich paid quite well. Not extravagant but fair.
The owner treated his musicians a bit like staff. He expected them to work for their wages. Four half hour sets meant 4 x 30 minutes. Not 4 x 29 minutes. He also expected a standard of entertainment worthy of the sum he was paying. This approach forced musicians (subconsciously or not) to rise towards a certain minimum level of competence and maintain it. Even us, Izzy Skint, managed to hold on to our gigs. Izzy Skint's incentives were very simple. Firstly, playing The Shamrock was far more enjoyable than busking on some winter corner.
Secondly, the Shamrock owner was the landlord for half the band.
Thirdly: the beer was free.

Many Irish bars have come and gone over the years. Many were run by clowns on a Guinness bandwagon. I dealt with a lot of these jokers on a regular basis and I have to say at the end of the day The Shamrock in Munich was probably the fairest Irish establishment I ever worked with if you didn't expect too much. (Hey and I'm not even groveling for a gig).

The Shamrock opened around 1990. It's still there.
Jeez, some of the musicians are still there too.

Oct 16, 2010

Film Fest on Railroad. Details are vague. Currently Postponed. Bellingham

Oct 10, 2010

Bellingham Flea Market

It's been a long time since I played a solo gig. I think the last one was on Paddy's night which was a bit crazy.
This time things were a bit more subdued.
I played about an hour and was able to pull out a whole set of stuff I never get to play live: Cluck Old Hen, Singing in the Rain, Over the Hill, Nellie the Elephant and Salt in the Sugar bowl. Definitely a lot of fun and a great practice. Not too profitable but still a fairly sociable little adventure.

Sep 26, 2010

Bellingham Flea Market

A Sunday Morning.

It was me, Donald and Phil playing this one. The organizers set up a little area by the door and actually broadcast the music outside. I hope we didn't scare anyone.
This was a very enjoyable little gig. Really it was just like busking indoors. We played a relaxing hour of blues and folk in a mellow atmosphere.
Beats going to church.

We played The Bouncy House in public for the first time ever. Someone rushed up and asked which CD it was on. That was a good sign I guess. Unfortunately I haven't recorded it yet but he bought a copy of Driftwood anyway. Thank you.

There was a stall there selling cigar box guitars for 25 dollars. It took all my resolve not to buy one. If the actions had been a little lower I would definitely have splurged. As it was, I doubt they were playable but they'd have looked good on the wall.

I guess I could just build my own anyway.
Recently I built a biscuit tin banjo: a Jambo. What a crazy sound. The Martin Guitar Company need have no fear as yet.
I think there's a video link to it on Facebook somewhere. Mostly it was just fun to build. I recorded a track with it on Sawney Bean. Mainly it provided some background twang (that's a technical term).

So it was a good wee gig. They even invited us back.
Ain't No Bugs on Me.

I love rummaging in Flea Markets. You never know what you'll find.
In Annecy, there was a flea market down town every month. I was strolling through with Frank one day when he stopped at a big wicker hamper of hats. He delved his hand in up to his elbow and pulled out a Bogart hat. Then he stuck it on my head and said, "A busker needs a hat."
Me and that hat traveled far and wide for years till finally it was lost in action in Erlangen in Germany. That was a tragic day. We'd all been drinking in the Irish pub by the station and had driven the Suzuki van to Harry's place afterwards. Somewhere en route, we slid the side door open so that someone could vomit (out not in). I think that was when my hat tumbled out. It may have jumped. I don't know but it was never seen again.
The following day I still hadn't noticed it was gone till we were almost in Bamberg. We did a u-turn and heading back. We searched everywhere but it was gone for good. I was devastated.

So if anyone out there found an old Bogart hat anywhere in Erlangen with a small hole right at the front on top and with a blue and purplish/red band sewn around its brim, then it might have been mine. Please look after it.

Sep 21, 2010

Green Frog Acoustic Cafe and Tavern Bellingham Washington US

Five Muddy Boots showed up for this gig. Me, Donald, Phil, Dave and Y(J)an.
I think we enjoyed this one. There were some sound check issues at the beginning but we weathered them (As ye do).
It wasn't the busiest gig we've played in there but the audience was very appreciative and even appeared to be listening at times.
We managed to throw in a few new songs to the mix too. Christiana made an appearance. Great Explorers got a run out but I think it needs a key change. It might be another song heading towards G. Seemingly all roads lead to G.
Riding Home really grooved along nicely and went for a pleasant walk round the band.

It occurred to me later that we didn't play The Henhouse song. It's a long time since we omitted that one from the set. Can't say I missed it. It's a fun song but it was nice to have a break from it.

As gigs go, I'd have to say we felt quite tight during the majority of this performance. The evening did not feel like hard work, which might also explain why we didn't get paid.

I was looking at our set list and unless I missed something, I think we only played 16 songs. For a 2 hour gig, that’s not very many. That's like 8 an hour! A rough average of 7 minutes a song. I don't think we particularly dilly dallied between songs either.

Just for the record, 9 were originals and the rest were trad, blues and folk.

Time flies when you're enjoying yourself. The gig whizzed past and before I knew it, I was on my bike and cycling precariously home, balancing my guitar and backpack on the bike frame.

In short, I'd say this was a good wee gig with a lot of genuine positives.
Well done lads. Credit where it's due.

……………………………….

There was a Scotsman at the gig (apart from me). Not many of those in Bellingham. A guy called P McNeil I think. I enjoyed the rare novelty of talking with someone and not have to repeat everything twice.
He'd been working on a fishing boat up in Alaska and said he was set to head off cross country on his Triumph motorbike. Best of luck to him. Hope he makes it.
I was lucky just to get home on my bicycle.

Years ago, as we all know by now, I lived along the Danube River on the outskirts of Regensburg. After gigging, working and drinking in town, I'd stumble back home in the wee hours along the bicycle path out to Pruffening. This bike path was a one lane gravel lane that followed the Southern bank of the Danube all the way out of town and far beyond. There were no houses along my way and at night it was deserted. The unlit and silent journey took about half an hour on foot. It could be a bit eerie but I usually had Huck the dog for company. Often we got sidetracked exploring through bushes and reeds looking for wildlife. One bright night we stopped to have a drunken chat with a beaver who sat upright and listened patiently but hadn't much to say.
Another time we saw a creature that to this day I can't explain.
It happened near the Goldene Ente Bridge on the Harp side of the river. I saw a cat sized shadow crouched by the edge of the river dyke walkway. As I approached, it scurried backwards down the sheer wall towards the swift flowing river below. I heard a distinct splash and was sure it had fallen in. But a split second later it was back up, clinging by its front paws while its bedraggled body still dangled over the wall. It hissed like a seething angry feline through sharp incisor teeth. Yet I'm sure it wasn't a cat and it wasn't a rat. It wasn't a beaver either. It was like a cartoon Tasmanian devil. Its ferocity was astonishing. I'd never seen such venom and hatred in a creature. "Come ahead ya bastard", it seemed to hiss like it was threatening me. Challenging me to dare start something. I have no idea what it was. A coypu? Musk Rat? A raccoon? Certainly not Basil Brush. I don't know but jeez, it was pissed off.
I kept a wary eye on it as we sidled passed and didn't turn my back.

Most nights though the walk was very peaceful. Generally I quite enjoyed the stroll. In Winter I rarely met anyone. At 2 am most of Regensburg was asleep and I was happy to have the 3 km stretch of riverside to myself and Huck.

One late night in the wee hours, I was staggering home, singing to myself when I tripped over an old rusted bike lying in the long grass. It was basically just a rusty frame with 2 buckled wheels, more square than round. Its tires were just ragged pieces of rubber entangled in the broken spokes. There were no brakes, gears or lights. It was a mere skeleton. But it still had a rusted chain and pedals and an old fashioned spring loaded saddle seat. So I hopped on.
I have no idea how long it had lain there but rigormortis had definitely set in. The poor burdened beast grated and cursed in pain as I roused it from its coma and cranked it back to life. I remember laughing and cringing as we actually began to clunk forward.

I immediately discovered that it wasn't as easy to pedal a dead bike as you might imagine. But it was marginally faster than walking and we had quite a distance to travel. I swear we sounded like a bad one man band scraping his finger nails down a blackboard.
The bewildered bike must have thought it had died and woke up in hell with the devil at the helm. If only I'd had a whip. That's a scary image.

During that maiden voyage, I performed several spectacular slapstick stunts. First I did the "Human Cannonball" which involved exiting head first over the handlebars in the manner of an arrow.
Next I did the "Large Tree" which involved a large tree. I did that one several times. And finally my crème de la crème: a combination stunt called the "Runaway Corrugated jiggle" which involved some involuntary off road biking. This move often incorporates a frightening maneuver called the "Sudden Rock" swiftly followed by both the Human Cannonball and The Large Tree. It's quite a display. For many cyclists this triple tour de force is a difficult exercise but I alas appeared to be a natural.
Three interesting kilometers later, I stashed the bike in a copse of trees in case I needed it in the future.

In fact all winter I rattled back and forth along the river. It was a challenge but as I grew familiar with the bike's quirks (It was more quirk than bike), I was able to knock about 15 minutes off my journey. In fact I began to rely on that old pony bike to get me home on extra freezing nights.

Through rain and snow and bright moonlight, I rode that rusted relic in and out of town. The inward journey was usually fairly sober and uneventful but the return trip was the bad half of a Jeckle and Hyde experience. I must have cut a fiendishly f##ked up figure astride my scrap iron carcass. Yes indeed. Opposite direction and definitely opposite of sober.

One particular return trip, I was heading home after a gig and countless Jaegermeisters. I stopped to rest on a low wall. I'd been carrying my guitar on my back and I sat for a cigarette break. Next minute I was opening my eyes and I realized I'd been asleep, sitting upright. I'd no idea how long I'd been out, but the chill had crept into my bones. Huck was sitting patiently nearby gazing absently out across the river. I mounted the bike and still fueled on pure alcohol I steamed off for home with Huck happy to be galloping along.

About a kilometer later I realized the guitar was not strapped to my back. I turned and headed back. But there was no sign of the guitar. No sign of any person either. I continued on back into town on foot. Still no sign of the guitar. I returned to where I'd slept. No guitar. I stood there completely confused. Where could it have gone?

It was an expensive guitar. I couldn't afford to lose it. I scoured the area and went back and forth for an hour. Nothing. I was getting annoyed and exasperated. It was gone. I stood there despondent with my hands clasped on my head. It was futile. All I could do was go home and come back at first light.

I saddled up defeated and set off. Shortly I passed the place where I'd first noticed the guitar was missing. Then a half kilometer further on I stopped and my heart leapt. There was the guitar. Lying by the side of the path. I stared in disbelief. But how was this possible? I hadn't been there yet.
Had I been sleep walking? If so, then why had I put the guitar there then returned to where I'd woken up? It made no sense. Then again, how could I have put the guitar where I hadn't been yet? But I must have been there. Or had someone passed by and saw me sleeping and stolen it, then panicked and ditched it. This place was one and a half kms past where I'd sat on the wall. Just how long had I been asleep? There appeared to be gaps in my actions. There was no apparent logic to my movements. It was too much for my fried brain. I was just relieved to have found the guitar.

Let's put it down to simple mathematics?
One Scotsman plus X amount of schnapps equals X amount of recurring stupidity adds up to time to subtract X Jaegermeisters before long division leads to absolute zero.
Then add Y.

Y? Why Y?
Y not?

………………………………………………

When Spring time arrived and the days lengthened, I abandoned the bike. The path had become too hectic with a circus of walkers, joggers, cyclists, picnickers, baby carriages, dog fights and sunbathers. That's no place for a clown on a bike. It was suddenly impossible to meander through it all on my contraption without being arrested for vagrancy or disturbing the peace.

I had become quite fond of the bike but our parting day had come. It was time to put her out to graze. One night in mid March I finally left her leaning beside a large dented tree. Her days of purgatorial torture were ended and she was finally reclaimed by nature.
Me and Huck the dog walked home and we never saw the bike again.

Sep 10, 2010

The Honeymoon Bellingham

I must say I enjoyed this gig. It was a bit of a quirky adventure. We were perhaps a touch chaotic with our ad lib endings but generally the gig was quite a hoot. I think everyone went home happy.

This week's band was me, Donald, Dave and Yan.

(NOTE: I am aware that Yan's name is spelt with a J not a Y. But Donald's girlfriend is called Jan with a J. She also plays music. So to avoid confusion, I spell one with a Y because that is how he pronounces it.)

We used Yan's PA system because it was all set up anyway. He seems to play in there a lot. Dave used his mini "Honeymoon friendly" drum kit.
As usual there was a laid back ambience to the place. We kept the stuff mellow but not too slow. We still played the faster stuff like Cardboard Box and Hens in the Henhouse.
We also played, Step it Out Mary, for the first song. We'd never played it before as a band…ever.
It went pretty good for a first attempt.

This was definitely a very organic gig: acoustic guitar, mandolin, stripped down drums, harmonicas, cazumpet and of course the bass.
Dave's drums are a great fit to this music. They add a sort of lively shuffle that we all just cruise along on top of. It's like we're surfing smoothly across the icing on a big happy cake.
While me, Dave and Donald surfed happily across the gateau, Yan seemed to be surfing the internet. He had his computer set up and between solos he was chatting on Facebook. It's comforting to know that he's keeping his finger on the pulse. (Good work when you can get it.)

Anyway, I think this gig had a lot of good moments. It was a very spontaneous affair with jams that didn't get over extensive or drawn out. Time flew by.
The first 2 song went great before we had to press the restart button on the 3rd song. I'd forgot to move my capo and I was playing in F while everyone else was in E. Sorry lads.
Fortunately the crowd were a forgiving bunch and we forged ahead.

I enjoyed Weeping Willow and Play for Free. Half the place got up and gave us money during the latter. I hadn't meant it as a hint but there ye go.
It was also great to hear some fun backing vocals on Blackberry Pie emanating from within the band. It might not be the best song I ever wrote but it does seem to possess some lighthearted appeal.
All things considered, this was a very enjoyable little soiree with good energy. I'd say we finished this gig with tread to spare.

Aug 21, 2010

Beach Store Cafe Beer Garden Washington

There's definitely been some Autumn chill in the sea air these days. Out at the Beach Store Café beer garden, Arizona Joe (the boss) spent the evening huddled in his outdoor kitchen shed and pined for warmer climes. There wasn't much of a turn out for this gig. Apparently there was competition elsewhere on the island (a wedding I think). It was only later towards closing time that the garden got a little busier. By that time though, poor Arizona Joe had trembled off home, leaving someone else to lock up.

It's a shame that ordinance laws shut down the beer garden at 10pm. That seems to be the time everyone starts waking up on Lummi. They start calling for one more song just as we're getting set to catch the boat.

Musically this gig had some bizarre moments but some nice ones too. How Spoonful got messed up will be a laughing point for years to come. This particular version sounded like a page had been ripped from a story book and shredded. Then the pieces had been randomly glued back together again. There was certainly a plot but it was in code. I guess we all got off on a false start and kept plugging away in the vain hope it would all come together. Sadly, that didn't happen. We all continued along our own personal parallel universes right till the end which was quite a musical feat in itself.

On the more positive side, Weeping Willow felt good. It was an unexpected melodic surprise and Yan played some nice fiddle on it.

…………………………….

I guess this was the last gig of our Summer and it pretty much summed up the story of our recent gigs. Win some lose some. We definitely won more than we lost but there were plenty of dodgy moments. We've not yet been boo-ed off. So that's positive.

But there were multiple gigs where I was on stage yelling the name, key, and chords of the next song to a makeshift band of near total strangers. It's been comical but not that funny.
Musicians seem to come and go in and out of the Muddy Boots Band like it's a bus station waiting room or a welfare office. I estimate we had a total of ten musicians. That's quite a turnover considering there weren't really that many gigs or obvious disagreements. It's all about who's available.
I'm afraid we're becoming less of a band and more of a co-op. I think some bar owners even believe we are a charity organization.

In our defense, I will say that with all the "meet and greet" going within the band, it's been difficult to be cohesive and play our best. The only true constants throughout the past year have been me and Donald. I suppose people have lives to live. It's not easy to co-ordinate and motivate 5 people to assemble regularly for a practice. Maybe we should introduce more drugs and alcohol to our sessions. We'd probably play all night.

……………………………..

I guess this past year has given us quite an extensive tour of Whatcom County. In case you didn't know, it's a beautiful wee place rising from the Pacific Ocean to about 10,000 feet with plenty of stunning scenery in between. It's probably how Scotland looked before it was clear-cut and the wildlife decimated. Plus a volcano.

The Muddy Boots certainly stomped around Whatcom. We played out at the hamlet of Glacier a few times. We were up in Everson, down in Anacortes, over on Lummi Island, around Birch Bay, up in Blaine, and all over Bellingham and Fairhaven. Yes, I know… such exotic places. We're living the dream. Still in honest perspective, it has been mostly a lot of fun. And like I said, spectacular.
I suppose just because a wonderful place isn't famous, it doesn't make it any less breathtaking.
Scenery -wise, there are far worse places to ply my humble trade.
It's never written on a contract that dramatic landscapes will be provided. The county's natural beauty is not so much a gig perk; it's more of a by-product of living here. I guess it's no one's to give.

Best gig of all? I don't know. Maybe the Gig with Chuck out at Glacier. That was a blast. The Allied Arts Festival gig with Charlie last year was great too. One of the gigs in the Anacortes Hotel garden was also a lot of fun. One gig at the Green Frog was also good.

Strangest gig? Maybe the Humane Society Benefit when Tree had his drums set up in the hayloft while we were all down below on stage with a sasquatch in the corner.

Well that's my take on the past year except to add that I've been privileged to play with some great musicians who not only do me the insane honour of performing my music but do it well.
I look forward (as ever) to our next outing.
……………………….

Playing in the states has certainly forced me to learn lyrics better. Over on Continental Europe, I often made up entire verses on the spot. No one seemed any the wiser.
I recall Nick singing, "It Never Rains in California" one evening in the Old Dubliner in Regensburg. Right in the middle he comes out with,
"It never rains in the Old Dubliner.
Girl you're a bubbliner."

The Irish pub scene in Germany demanded that musicians be walking juke boxes. To help me in my endless task of learning new material, I always kept a blank cassette ready in my radio cassette player. Every time a song came on that I wanted to learn, I'd press the record button and tape it. When the tape was full, I'd sit down and learn them all. I had to learn a lot because if anyone asked for any well known song under the sun, I was expected to know it. To this day I know hundreds of songs but not their first line because I always missed it before I pressed record.

I remember an Irish guy called Bobby (Grassick?) was passing the hat for the band one night up in Nurnberg. A reluctant donator said to him, "I heard this band play this song last time too. Why should I pay again?"
Quick as a flash, Bobby comes back with, "Listen, if you drop a coin in a juke box do you think it's going to play your song twice?"

With the Izzy Skint band we were forever changing lyrics. No song was sacred. "Dirty Old Town" became Dirty Old Man. The Star of the County Down suffered several changes and none for the better. "Who's the maid with the nut brown hair" swiftly became "Who's the nut with the light brown hair." Other County Down changes were too graphic to go into right now.
Most entendres were too subtle for a non native speaker to catch in passing. But once whilst singing "Get Back" the chorus degenerated into "F##k off f##k off back to where you once belonged." That was one of the more blatant ones. No need for translation there. Amidst the chaos of a rowdy Irish pub that stuff just blended in. Here in the States I doubt we could get away with such illustrious imagery.

Bad Moon rising was another classic lyric swap. "There's a bad moon on the rise" became, "There's a bathroom on the right." Harry took great pleasure singing that one.
He also sang the Beatles song, Yesterday. It went like something like this…
"Leprosy
Bit's and pieces falling off of me.
I'm just half the man I used to be…"

A bit gruesome. Uncouth even. I don't know. Ask Harry. He sang it. Not me.

I remember JB singing an REM song on the street in Regensburg. The song was called something like, This One Goes Out to the One I Love. He was belting it out fine style and at each chorus he sang out loud and clear across the square, "FIRE, My bums on fire.'
No one batted an eyelid. The funny thing though was he was playing outside a pharmacist. He must have sounded like an ad for an anti itch lotion.
I half expected someone to come out and give him some Preparation H.
I think the proper lyric was " something like "My heart's on fire". In which case he could have been advertising a heart burn medication like Prilosec.

Some lyrical adaptations were quite clever. Helen and PJ took Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee" and rewrote the entire song renaming it "One more Gin and Tonic."
We even went as far as to record it.

It was quite difficult to get out of the lazy habit of half learning songs' lyrics. Usually in Europe I could get away with a verse and a half and a few choruses. It was especially easy with the Irish/Scottish trad stuff. No one understood the accent anyway. But to edit and butcher a well known song like Let It Be was unforgivable.
But that didn't stop us…..

"I wake up to the sound of music
Julie Andrews comes to me
speaks with Norman Wisdom
let it be….."

Etc etc etc. And many more.

Maybe back then we were all just chancers (I'm sure it hasn't changed) but what if the Continentals had caught a half of these on the spot lyrics? It might have made their evenings twice as entertaining? After all who goes to an Irish pub to hear perfect music? Sure the standards are fairly high but it's all about the craic.

Here's the standard interview for a gig job in an Irish bar.

"Can I have a gig?"
"Are ye any good?"
"Yes."
"How much money do ye want?"
"How much have ye got?"
"I'll give ye 150."
"Is there free beer?"

Folk music was never meant for concert halls and for people sitting in neat rows of chairs facing a stage. That's like looking at a zoo animal in a cage. Folk music is naturally interactive. It often starts with a bunch of musicians at a table in an old pub sharing funny stories and swapping tunes. As the pints flow, the music becomes less inhibited. The volume level in the bar rises. The rowdier the people become, the rowdier the music becomes. The two evolve together till last orders are called and a lusty round of cheerful vomiting and fighting ensues.

I do miss the craic sometimes. Good times. Good times.

Aug 20, 2010

Fairhaven BBQ

This was a relaxing little gig with just me, Phil and Donald playing.
Due to the sporadic, intermittent nature of the audience, we were able to practice a whole bunch of new and old material. People came and went and never stayed longer that the time it took to eat their snack.
We played The L and M, Clyde, Stone River, Bouncy House, Weeping Willow and Great Explorers. We even played some of them twice.
It was quite a pleasant 3 hour jam. There are certainly worse ways to pass a sunny afternoon.

Jul 31, 2010

Cane Lake Campground Near Bellingham. South of Lake Whatcom?

This gig got rained out too just like the Senior Centre gig earlier. Unlike that gig though there was a substantial all ages audience in attendance.
We set up to play in a large room with an old fashioned fireplace. Dave set up a wagon wheel in front of his bass drum which added some token legitimacy to the country western theme of the evening.
We are not a CW band but Country Western was indeed the theme of the evening. This created a potentially tricky situation. We don't really play that kind of music but somehow we pulled it off. We played some well known classics like Heaven's Door and that's all Right Mama which though not exactly Country, did get everyone dancing. The unexpected hit of this gig was Small Step on Broadway.
There were a lot of little kids at the start of this gig. They all piled in wearing cowboy outfits: all dusty boots and Rhinestones. Bearing that in mind, we began with, Old MacDonald Had a Ranch. We followed that with Ain't No Bugs On Me. The whole place just started dancing. We just went with the flow. If nothing else, we are very adaptable. We're an elastic band.

Towards eleven the place was emptying out. The boss told us we could wrap it up. Then we played an extended version of Cardboard Box which enticed a mixed bunch of teen kids back in from the outdoor benches. In the end we played till midnight.
William fell in love with one of the teenage girls. She gave him a bracelet and at the night's end, he walked starry eyed back to the car where he lay in a daze across the back seats. When Jan went to check on him he said in a dreamy far away voice, "Close the door mum, I need to be alone right now."

Well it was good to have this gig over with. It had been such a runaround. At one point everyone had pulled out and it looked like we'd have to cancel it. Poor Hil was frantic. She had chased that gig so hard. When it fell apart, she felt obliged to fix it. She called various bands around town and checked the websites of a bunch of others. She had no luck. Everyone was booked. Time was running out if we wanted to cancel and still leave the organizers ample time to find a replacement band. At that stage it was no longer about the Muddy Boots, it was all about not letting down the folks who'd booked us.
Finally after practicing with Donald one afternoon, I told him I was going to cancel the gig the next morning as it was only him and I left. Donald being broke and desperate like myself, said he'd come up with a solution. I left him to it with the understanding that Hil got 50 dollars from the gig money for all her trouble. By this time several weeks had passed since everyone had pulled out. I still had no idea who would end up playing the gig.
Whoever turned up would only have time for 2 practices at most.
Somehow Donald located a drummer (Dave) and Hil got in touch with Yan who even did a practice. Meanwhile Phil changed his mind at the last minute and decided he could play after all. Now all we had to do was figure out how to get there.

In the end it was actually quite a good gig but Jeez what a goose chase.

We played this gig with Donald's new PA. I think he got it in the Pawn Shop. It seemed to work fine. Though it was hard to tell as the room filled and emptied and the acoustics changed throughout the evening.


Speaking of Country Western, let me tell you a tale concerning my good friend JB.

Skye is an island far away up there in the Hebrides off the North West coast of Scotland.
A lot of folks in that area still speak Gaelic. It's a beautiful desolate place where such towns that exist are rarely bigger than villages.
The largest town on Skye was Portree. A typical little whitewashed fishing village built around a sheltered harbour and comprising of some bed and breakfasts, some bars and a few shops. History happens slowly in those parts. The natives tend to be a touch conservative and a bit suspicious of new developments. They like things as they are. In the time I worked there I remember the island's one and only traffic light being erected down by the ferry in Kyleakin. That was a sensation. It drew a crowd. I wonder what the reaction was a few years later when an enormous bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland. That may have been the biggest historical event up there ever. Bigger perhaps than Archie Gemmell's goal against Holland in 1978.
People came to Skye to experience its sense of desolation. It's hard to believe such isolation could still exist in Europe. Both JB and I spent time up there. It is a wild bleak landscape shaped by the most fundamental of forces: wind, ice, sea and alcohol. It sounds terrifying but it is beautiful.

As you can imagine, the Isle of Skye was not exactly the Las Vegas of the North. So when any event of a social nature occurred, it was a big deal. Like the time when a real live country western band came to town……

………JB was sitting at a bar in Portree talking with an American stranger. They started talking about music. JB mentioned he was a musician. The stranger said he was a musician too. JB suggested they should have a session. The stranger then said that he played with the country western band that was in town that very night. JB asked if he could maybe sit in on a few tunes.
"Sure", said the stranger. "But there's just one catch."

He took JB outside to his van.

"Everyone in the band has to wear one of these" He said.
He handed JB a huge cowboy Stetson hat.
"No problem" smiled JB. "I like hats."
"…And one of these" added the American. He presented JB a full cowboy outfit in a protective polythene cover. JB nodded in a manner that could have meant anything.
A sort of neutral nod of maybeness.
"Okay then", concluded the American. "Just be at the bar at 8:30 tonight." Then he got in the van and drove off.

JB took the outfit home and examined it in more detail. He spread it out on his bed.
Now, there are cowboy outfits and there are cowboy outfits. This particular cowboy outfit was a "helluva" cowboy outfit. Its exact description has since passed into the superlative fog of Portree folklore. But suffice to say, it was classically over the top: longhorn belt buckle, cowboy boots, silver spurs, rhinestone shirt and of course the 10 gallon hat. Is there such a colour as Neon Garrish?
JB loved playing music and never liked to pass up a gig opportunity. Chances like this were rare up in the Highlands and Islands. But……

……………………………

But..…."Is this worth it" he wondered later as he looked in his mirror at an image not quite Elvis, not quite the Lone Ranger, and not quite sober.

At 8:20pm, JB, missing only a horse and a gun, ( a bus stop cowboy) strode purposefully up the street towards the bar.
"Yer darn tootin it's worth it."

At 8:30 pm he pushed open the bar door and moseyed on in. If there'd been a piano player tickling the ivories, he'd have stopped playing in mid plink. As it was, pint glasses braked between bar counter and lips. Darts went astray and pool balls rolled across the floor like tumbleweed.

JB looked over to the stage and stopped in his tracks. There was the American guy with the country western band. They were all decked out casually in jeans and tee shirts. They all raised their glasses and toasted his health. "Give us a song Roy", they hooted.

Personally I'd probably have died on the spot: probably lynch myself. But JB bellied up to the bar and said in his best drawl, "Bartender gimme a milk, 2 straws and a small hole to climb into."

He did actually play the gig with the band which was by all accounts a roaring success.
Yeehah.



Old Folks Centre Family BBQ.
July 31st

An odd little gig.
It got rained out so we moved inside to a big empty hall with a few plastic chairs lined up.
Today's band consisted of me, Yan and Donald. At times we outnumbered the crowd. We didn't even plug in.
Yan was on fine form though and he drifted between the house piano, the harmonica, his mandolin and his fiddle. He was quite entertaining. It was just a shame no one was there to witness it. Maximum crowd was about 10 people. Minimum was zero.
In the end we only played about 45 minutes. Good practice.

Ronan and William spent the whole gig out in the hallway playing a WEI computer game which involved boxing, tennis, bowling and a lot of leaping around. They do love their gig perks.



BBQ at Fairhaven Market
July 30th

This was an easy going gig. A crowd of shoppers came and went throughout the duration. There was no need to play the songs in any particular order.
This was Dave's first gig with the band. He slotted right in and added a bright shuffle and a big smile to the proceedings.
There's not much more to add really. Good gig. I think we all had a good time.
Thanks to Jim and Sally for showing up.

Jul 16, 2010

3Ds at Fairhaven BBQ

The 3Ds
Fairhaven BBQ.

As ever another very pleasant and non controversial gig with the 3Ds.
Dale, Donald, Jan and myself were on the menu today.
The supermarket across the street has recently been having BBQs in a quiet corner of the car park. It's actually quite nice. They’ve sort of partitioned off the area between the liquor store and the supermarket entrance. Once you're in, you forget there's a car park outside.
I guess they've created a roofless restaurant. If they sold alcohol then it would be a topless bar.

Anyway Dale was in fine form and was very obviously enjoying himself. I think he sang a few more songs than usual.
I'm beginning to recognize the titles to some of these tunes now. I like playing Chicken Reel and Flop Eared Mule and Mind Your Own Business. They lend themselves well to the wash tub bass. I like them all actually.

I think everyone had a good time. I wore out 2 fingers on my tub glove. I'm glad I was wearing it.

Jul 9, 2010

Everson/ Nooksack Summer Festival Washington

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots Band

We were a big old band of boots for this gig: Donald, Chris, Chuck, Charlie, Phil, and myself.
We set up to play in the bandstand in the town green (not Riverside Park).
I had been looking forward to this gig but sadly sound problems turned the afternoon into quite an exhausting 2 hours work for everyone.

Our sound system was a mish mash of Donald's speakers, my speakers and Phil and Charlie's amps. We had no real monitors and no one could really hear each other.

But we battled through it (as ye do).

To what end, I'm not sure. In fact I was reminded of our first recording session out at Charlie's a few years back when I had a similar ear phone sound check. (Wow. Remember that? Ooh pain.)
Then when Hil chirped in with, "hey, your guitar is rattling," I was thinking, "Jeez, that's probably the best part of the soundcheck. " Not that I could hear it. I wonder if it was rattling in tune?

Still… those notables who expressed an opinion, said the gig sounded fine: not spectacular, just fine.

We definitely had some nice moments. Songs like Cardboard Box and Injara are still great fun to play. We didn't even play Chuckanut or Annecy.

Half way through our set, the next band arrived. They stood behind the bandstand and I began to feel they were trying to psyche us off. In the last 20 minutes, I could practically hear them gnashing their teeth, checking their watches and tapping their fingers in impatience. It was kinda funny actually. Hadn't they read the program timetable?
Muddy Boots 5pm till 6:45.
Next band: 7PM till whenever.

What did they expect us to do? We'd already switched slots to accommodate them: now it seemed they wanted half of this slot too.

Well I hope the Everson citizens had a good annual fair. They certainly had far more entertaining things to do than listen to us and our sound check. There were stalls with tasty looking food. There was lemonade and arty stuff, a soccer game, a bouncy house, crazy golf, a swing park and popcorn. All good stuff on a very pleasant sunny afternoon.
I guess they weren't serving alcohol. This might explain the subdued nature of the crowd.
It really was a family oriented affair and fortunately for our uncooperative sound check, live music was just background noise for added atmosphere.

Odd gig.

Afterwards me, Hil and Ronan went to Riverside Park for a quiet picnic.
I think the last time we were in Everson was to write a travel article for a Whatcom County, "where to go" book. That must have been about 10 years ago. Riverside Park hadn't changed much. Good picnic though.

Jul 4, 2010

Zuanich Park

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots Band.

A decent enough gig with some good moments.

This was Tree's last official gig.
Charlie may still be occasionally on the payroll but he seems content playing solo gigs. Fair play to him. He's out there doing it. I will miss that second guitar.

Just as we were starting, my guitar began to crackle. I couldn't believe it. After just getting it fixed as well. So I changed the battery. That didn't help. I changed the cable. Nothing. Tried a third cable. Then it worked.
What a start. That wasn't one of the good moments.

There was quite a big crowd in the park but they were really spread out thinly into the distance. We were set up to play on the step of the pavilion building. Scott Peterson and the Boundary Bay sound guy were doing the sound. I could see them talking in the sound booth. It looked like one was turning things up as the other was turning them down. It was kind of comical.
It was a bit of a blustery sound check which made the gig a bit like hard work. I felt like I was shouting. I guess we were spoiled after Scott's great sound check at the Allied Arts Street Fair last year. Can't win 'em all.

This event was a family day out for Bellingham. Hil got herself a folding chair and sat herself at a comfy distance chatting with Jan.
Ronan charged around with a balloon sword he got from a balloon folding guy.
He (Ronan, not the Balloon guy) and William had a great time playing in the bouncy houses.

Not much to say about the gig. We finished about 8pm.
There was one more band on after us, then there would be a fireworks display.

At several points during our set I thought I heard my guitar crackling again but it turned out to be some nearby fizzling fireworks. In the middle of one song there was a huge boom and a cloud of black smoke appeared in the sky. I looked up and thought. "Oh oh, there goes the Balloon Man."

When the gig was over, Me, Hil and Ronan went over to Alex's parents' home where they put on an unbeatable spread of food. From their balcony we had a perfect view of the fireworks display across the bay. By 11pm, the whole town smelled like gunpowder and barbeque sauce.

I guess the 4th of July is one of the top barbeque days on the American calendar.
In Scotland we didn't barbeque much. This is mainly because of the inclement weather but probably also because we never really defeated the English. We don't have an Independence Day equivalent. I guess we could celebrate Bannockburn Day.

…………………………………………………….

But speaking of Scottish barbeques…..
Some years back, up on the Scottish Isle of Skye, I had a job as Assistant Warden in a Youth Hostel. My direct Boss was a guy called Rob.

Rob was a stocky wee Glasgow man with thick milk bottle spectacles, tattoos and a stubborn streak. As a boss, Rob did things by the book. But he was a fair man. In the large scheme of things I'd have to say he was a good boss.
During working hours he expected me to be completely in charge and to function independent of him. He did not like to be unduly disturbed especially when he was in the Haakon Bar across the street. He ran a tight ship but when the hostel shift was done, he left the work behind and we were all friends. It was like the flick of a switch.

So anyway, me and him, Hil, Julie and JB were all up the Obb (the small tidal inlet) behind Kyleakin Village on a beautiful midsummer evening. It was a pleasant little place to go for a stroll and get smashed (as in pitifully drunk).

Well I must say we were well on our way to oblivion via consumption of vast quantities of beer, wine and smoky stuff. We were all swaying nicely in different directions when someone mentioned food. Suddenly everyone was starving. Then Julie had to mention sausages.
Well that was the moment that Rob decided to share his recipe for a Glasgow barbeque which as it transpired was a tricky mix of a cookout and a fireworks display combined.

It went like this……

First drink far too much alcohol. (No problem there.) Then drag an old rusty oil drum from some garbage heap and set it up on its end up the Obb. Next, get a large rock and a big 6 inch nail. Bash holes in the oil drum using said technology.
Next, bandage fingers.
Now stagger back to the youth hostel freezer and rip out a ton of bratwurst sausages. Spread them on top of the oil drum. Take a large can of kerosene and liberally dowse sausages, oil drum and self.
Ignite……

As I recall there was an instant inferno like someone had lit a space rocket. Flames roared to the height of the trees. We all jumped back. Except Rob. He had to be pulled back.
The fire blazed for about 5 minutes. The sausages had turned instantly black outside but remained frozen within: like a Choc-Ice for carnivores or the unfortunate people of Pompeii. I tried one. It tasted like pure kerosene. Disgusting.
We decided to go home. The oil drum was still glowing red hot. Someone gathered up the shriveled sausages and kicked the drum into the Obb River where it hissed angrily. The river was only a few inches deep. "We can't just leave it there", said someone. "Let's at least roll it down towards the sea."
Then Rob spoke up. "Och that'll take all night." He strode purposefully into the river and picked up the oil drum. Everybody yelled in alarm because it was still roasting hot. But Rob had it firmly grasped in a bear hug. The thing was almost as big as him. "Put it down. Rob. Put it down. Ye'll burn yerself." But he wouldn't listen and he stumbled and fell over the drum and into the river where the damn thing rolled right on top of him. We were laughing but we were trying to help. Rob, stubborn as a badger, just got up and like a Sumo wrestler; he grabbed his rusty opponent by the waist and carried it all the way back to the hostel where he abandoned it by the back door and disappeared.
Somehow by the end of the night all the sausages had been devoured. No one claimed to have eaten them but we all had kerosene breath the following day.

When I saw Rob next morning, he had a huge bandage on his right hand. We stepped out to the sunny backyard and sat sipping coffee on the kitchen step.
We were sitting there in comfy silence for a few moments then Rob pointed at the oil drum with his mug and said, "Where'd that come from?"

Hell of a barbeque.

Jun 26, 2010

Foodstock Humane Society Benefit Concert Near Ferndale Washington

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots.

We (Me, Hil and Ronan) went camping up the Mount Baker Highway on the Friday night before this gig. On Saturday afternoon we drove back straight to the gig out on Kickerville Road up near Ferndale.

The camping was fun. We stayed at Silver Fir campground which was surprisingly quiet. Our friends, Alex and Sagit had reserved some sites along the Nooksack River. Other friends of theirs showed with their kids. Ronan had no shortage of playmates.
Alex and Hil bravely cycled up Mt Baker to Heather Meadows while me and Ronan went for an easier ride along a logging trail that followed the River. It's a blast to see Ronan on his wee bike these days. Just two weeks ago he was still in the trailer and I was doing cycling for two. He just turned 6 last month but he weighs over 50 pounds. Every day I towed him to school became a harder work out. Now that I'm cycling without the loaded trailer and I feel light as a feather.

We passed an eventful day of doing nothing. We explored the giant hollow tree within the campground; we snacked and lazed by the river in the welcome sunshine. Me and Sagit drew some sketches. Eleanor and Ronan and all the other kids, skimmed stones, built pebble castles and climbed up and down driftwood logs. Ronan threw sticks for a dog who loved to dive in the river. Late at night when everyone was asleep Alex and me had a campfire jam, Grateful Dead style.

All in all we had a great little getaway away from Bellingham. Sometimes it's nice to have some spectacular mountains for company to give a different perspective on life. The only downside was the mosquitoes that were merciless in the shade but not bad in the open.
We left around 3pm on Saturday and crossed the width of the county. It was like doing the ski to Sea by car.

We arrived at the Funland Theatre in plenty of time.
This venue had apparently been a barn just last month. Actually it was still very much a barn but it had been funkified. There were sofas and church pews and a stage. Above the stage to one side was a loft. Upon this loft was the drum kit. It was a bizarre arrangement for a gig. Me, Donald, Charlie and Phil were on the main stage while Tree perched high above us like a rooster in the hay loft.

The barn was fairly dark inside and furnished with curiosities: a 6 foot Sasquatch, a suit of armour, a flashing robot, some broken TV frames and piles of other artistic odds and ends all arranged like museum exhibits.
I could picture this as a great venue for some late night spooky barn music.
In the courtyard there were a beer garden and a few charity organization tents all offering their services and info. There were chickens and goats and wandering musicians.

The whole idea was to raise money for food for the animals at the Humane Society. There were about 8 bands playing. I must say "well done", to the sound man for coping with it all. He must have had a long day.
We played our set around 7:30pm. It was very short (only about 6 or 7 songs) so we stuck to our catchier stuff.

It was nice of the band to volunteer their services for this gig without any prompting. Normally they don't play anywhere for free, but for the Humane Society there was no hesitation.

I'd say it wasn't our best performance but I had a great time chatting with all the animal lovers and musicians who were hanging out. (Probably all wanting adopted). I spoke with a drummer named Ken who'd spent a lot of time in L.A. He'd had a nasty back accident and had been confined to a wheel chair. One day he tried an experimental therapy and suddenly he was up and running again. It was quite literally like a miracle. He seemed a happy guy. And no wonder.
I also spoke with some of the band called 47th parallel. They were on after us. One of them was called Josh. He'd a lot of interesting busking questions which I was happy to try answer.

I hope the Humane Society raised some decent cash. It was an honour to play there. I derived great pleasure from making useful music. I'd love to do it more often. I'd travel the world and do it if I could. Right now though, I can hardly raise the money for a new guitar string.

Then we all went home.

So I'd say we had a good weekend, gigging, cycling and camping.

…………………………

I still find it strange to go camping with a tent. But that's apparently what respectable families do.
In the past I never even considered packing a tent. I traveled for years without a tent. It wasn't so much that I wanted to enjoy the romance of sleeping out under the stars, it was more that I liked to be able to open one eye and know what (or who) was going on around me.
Also tents were too much extra weight to carry around and a pain to put up and take down.
But girlfriends liked them.

It was because of the latter reason that I was compelled to invent the portable umbrella tent.
I'd always coveted the notion of a tent that was as easy to erect as an umbrella and just as portable.
One year back in the 90s, me, Hil, and Andy and Nina were drinking at the Regensburg Doltefeste. We stopped for pizza slices at a kiosk that had round barrel shaped tables that were tall enough to lean on like leaning at a bar. Protruding from the centre was an umbrella pole with a huge umbrella canopy. Emblazoned on it were the words, "Coca Cola." When we got up to leave, I realized the umbrella was following us through the crowd. Andy had simply picked it up and taken it with him. I recall shuffling through this crowd when a girl ahead of me suddenly stopped, turned and glared, then slapped me profoundly across the face. I was taken aback. Then I saw Andy's smiling face looking mischievously at me from the side. In one hand he still held the umbrella while his other hand was making little crab pincer movements.
This umbrella eventually ended up back at our apartment where it sat in a corner and gathered dust.

Some time afterwards, me and Hil were planning a trip to Spain. We spoke with Peter who had spent some time there over the last few years. He gave us some great busking info and told us about Northern Spain and the Basque Country and San Sebastian.
The night before we left Germany en route to Spain, I played a gig at the Alte Maltzerei. It wasn't the best paying gig nor the best attended but Walter the manager was a Spain enthusiast and he soon had maps spread out on the bar counter and was telling us enthusiastically about Los Picos de Europa.

Well next day bright and early we set off for Spain. I packed my guitar and the umbrella which I'd recently modified into some sort of crude bivouac instant tent. It wouldn't have been out of place in a ghetto. A shanty town igloo.

We took a Mitfahr (hitch hiking agency. Small fee.) from Munich to Saragossa.
This ended up being a 24 hour drive. The driver was a German guy of about our age. We smoked grass all the way there. Each time we crossed a new border, he hid the bag down his crotch. But most of the border posts were deserted. The Swiss border was active but paid us no heed.
En route our driver had given us emergency Spanish lessons. We learned words like, where, why, when, go, yes, shop, how much, thank you, hitch-hike, beer, wine, coffee, hash. It wasn't much but it all helped. We were far from fluent but we were slightly more than mute.

We passed over the Alps and over the Pyrenees and entered the Spanish desert. I'd never seen a desert before. I remember standing at a gas station by a roadside. There was nothing. No blade of grass. Just sand and rock and a long liquorice strip of tarmac.

In Saragossa, we parted with the driver. We planned to head North West by bus towards the Basque territory. He was heading for Madrid.
"140 Deutschmarks", he said.
I gave him the money. He looked at it.
"Each."
"Each?"
"Ya. 280Dms."
This unexpected expense put a severe dent in our already small budget. Hil had recently had her credit cards cancelled so we had no back up money at all.

Nevertheless, we headed North to Barcelona by bus. Then we took a bus to Pamplona. Finally we decided to take one more bus North. We agreed that no matter what, we would make our stand in that town.

All day we'd passed through desert. Not a sprig of green in sight. I was definitely in unfamiliar territory. Unfamiliar climate in fact. I wasn't sure I liked it. I willed the grass to grow. I strained my eyes for any sign of green activity. Nothing. Then after several hours, the Pyrenees peeked over the horizon. A blade of green appeared. Slowly other shy plants began cropping up like they were growing before my eyes on a time lapse landscape. I breathed a sigh of relief as the land began to shape into hills with rivers and pines. I hadn't relished the thought of sleeping rough in the desert among imaginary scorpions and snakes and without firewood. I guess I'll always be a maritime mountain sort of guy.

So it was that we arrived in San Sebastian as dusk was hovering. It was a fair sized coastal town just a few miles south of the French border. Despite its proximity to France, we quickly learned that no one spoke a word of French.
We loaded up with some groceries then went looking for a place to sleep. I left Hil in the lee of a harbour wall and set off around the coast till I came to a steep park with closed gates. All along the street were fishermen with rods. Occasionally a group would jump back when an extra large wave came leaping high out of the ocean.
We waited till nightfall then crept in to the park and headed up the hill. We quickly set up our umbrella tent behind some huge Stone Henge sized boulders. Here we were out of sight and reasonably sheltered.
Basically I popped open the brolly and covered it with a small tarp. Then I put my waterproof jacket under us as a groundsheet and that was that.
It was beautiful night. Not a cloud in the sky. We had climbed up fairly high. Below us we could hear the surf crashing on the harbour walls. We sat by our "tent" and drank Vino Tinto from cartons. A perfect start to our trip.

We awoke in a gale. A river was running through our happy home. Rain rattled off the tarpaulin roof. We had to hold on to everything to stop it getting blown out to sea. We endured as long as we could: huddled like fetuses in a damp, miserable womb.
Finally I turned over on my belly and stuck my head out and looked around. Grey sky. Grey rock. Grey sea. Grey.
"Only one thing to do in a time like this" I said to Hil.
"What?"
"Cigarette."
And so we lay and puffed grey smoke into the grey sky then we packed up and went into town.

We found a bar behind the train station that doubled as a left luggage office. Every morning afterwards, we were there having café con letche and cervesa (spelling?)
We spent several days in San Sebastian getting scruffier with each dreary sunrise. It was not yet tourist season. We wandered around the harbour and the old town and the boardwalk. We often had the whole beach front to ourselves. We'd sit on the beach drinking a bottle of 14 percent red wine and watch an occasional die-hard wind surfer get blown about around the bay.

San Sebastian is set in a beautiful inlet guarded by an island like a gem in a ring at the entrance. It was pleasant enough but our money was dwindling towards zero and our sleeping bags were still not dry. We just couldn't get warm and when the tobacco finally ran out, we became downright irritable.

One day Hil had a temper tantrum and stormed off round the bay. When she returned some hours later, she'd walked a lot of her frustration out of her system. Meanwhile I'd been busking and I surprised her with a big bulging money pouch and some tobacco. Though she tried bravely, she was so dejected that she could barely muster a thin smile.

Tom Petty songs were the big money earners that day. So much so in fact that I dispersed with all other songs and sang "Into the Great Wide Open" and "Your So Bad", over and over. No one stopped to listen, so no one noticed that the each song lasted over an hour. I remember that I stood down near the harbour by a shuttered hotel that looked kind of like a steam boat where there was a steady flow of people going by and no shopkeepers to annoy. I wonder if it's still there. The busking hadn't been brilliant but it certainly was enough to feed us for the day with some left over.

I busked again that same day and with this new cash, we went to a café to get warm and to make some desperate escape plans.
By now poor Hil was worn out by the elements. She wanted to go home. Since we'd arrived in town we'd had only one day of sunshine in a week. We had only been in one bar: I think it was called the Boga Boga. Interesting place. We simply weren't enjoying ourselves enough to make hanging around worth while. Hil had had about enough of rotten weather and dodgy tents. I must say I shared her opinion. It was time to skip town.

So we sat in that tiny deserted café with all our gear about us. We couldn't even afford to deposit it at the Luggage Bar. Hil, her hair in knots and tangles, was staring despondently at the floor. She had no energy left. Regensburg was an impossible distance away. Apart from the busking money, we were just about flat broke.

The time was ripe for extreme measures.
I reached into my hip pocket and pulled out a crumpled 50 Deutschmark note. I waved it slowly in front of her field of vision. At first there was no reaction. Then she was looking vacantly up at me in disbelief, babbling and asking "is it real? Where? How? Is it a dream? Then she was crying. Then we were both laughing so hard we were both crying. The waitress looked over briefly: straight faced and suspicious from the far end of the café counter then returned to chatting with the one other customer.

I'd kept this 50dm note in my pocket for use only in grim dire straits. The time had come. This had been my pay from the Alte Maltzerei gig I'd played the evening before we'd left Regensburg.

We were reborn.
Reprieved.
I went busking one last time and raked in a welcome heap of pesetas. (Thank you Tom P.)
We decided to use all the money for 2 train tickets as North East as possible across France. Thus our destination was Grenoble in the Alps, which wasn't far South of Annecy my old stomping ground. A fair distance. We would be able to by-pass hitch-hitching through France which in my past experience has been so bad as to be hardly even worth the effort. Too much hike and not enough hitch.

The train was scheduled to leave at 5 am. We stayed up all night wrapped in the damp sleeping bags on a bench up the hill. We had a great view overlooking the city. The wait was actually quite enjoyable. We had some wine and food and we chatted away fairly comfy and had a laugh while looking forward to a nice long warm dry train trip in the morning.
We were at the station in plenty of time. We got on board and let the heat soak into our bones. With one minute to go, I asked a fellow passenger if this was the train to France. He said yes. But then a man across from him said something contradictory and pointed to the train across the platform. In a mad panic we rushed out and jumped on board just as it pulled out.
We headed North leaving the remnants of the dead umbrella tent experiment behind us in Spain. Official cause of death: drowning.

Hil was soon conked out, snoring on my shoulder. It was snowing when we passed through Lourdes. I never pictured snow in Lourdes. I'd always envisioned a girl by a shady well on a sunny day. The train didn't stop there.

In Toulouse we had to change trains. Somehow we missed our connection while we were shopping for bread and cheese. We caught the next train and shared a compartment and a smoke with a French revolutionary anarchist.
Finally we arrived in Grenoble. I felt I was almost home. I searched for a place to sleep. There was a bridge by the river but it was too ratty. The local park was a little too active in the wee hours. So in the end we decided to doze close to the highway. We wrapped ourselves like burritos and got a frigid hour or two of rest.

In the morning there was frost everywhere. The mountains were snow capped and the world seemed filmed in Sepia.
We hitched into Annecy and I was busking in my old tunnel by 10 am.

Later on, walking through the old town, I met the Fox. He immediately asked "Ou est John?" I said, "en Eccosse."
He said, "Suive moi."
Which translated as, "Where is John?"
"In Scotland."
"Follow me."

He took us to his new home: a converted barn / farmhouse which was sparsely furnished but very cozy.
He had friends over for dinner and it all seemed very civilized.
When I pulled out a couple of bottles of 5 star plonk he got a fright and swiftly bundled them out of view. "Pour la cuisine",(For cooking) he whispered. It hadn't been for the kitchen last time we'd been drinking together.
The Fox was a perfect host. He put us up for the night and the next day we drove to a chalet up the Semnoz Mountain. We stayed the night there, painting, talking, smoking and drinking. But next day, much recovered, we were back on the street. The Fox had done his bit for society. Hil was happy and the weather had turned warm.

We were content to sleep out on the edge of town by the tennis courts. The lake was just across the street.
We'd sit out on the dock relaxing late at night before crossing the street to sleep in the shadows of some tall pines behind a hedge.
One late night 2 cars screeched to a halt on the street right in front of our hideaway. Doors flew open and bodies sprang out. There was angry yelling and cursing. There seemed to be two disputing factions chasing one other.
I sat up silently in my sleeping bag as a young man dived through the hedges barely 3 metres away. He lay still, hidden in shadow, while just inches away, on the other side, searchers were shouting orders. "Find him. Find him." The hunted man did not move as his angry pursuers closed in.
I slowly drew out my knife. I didn't know what I was thinking but these guys seemed intent on spilling blood. Somehow we'd found ourselves caught in the middle of a gang fight.
Suddenly the hedge guy took off like a rabbit. Everyone went racing back to their cars or charging through bushes or down the middle of the road. There was more tire screeching and engines revving as they all varruumed off South round the lake. Then all was quiet again.
Across the street, a figure emerged from the bushes. He looked cautiously both ways, lit a cigarette and began walking quickly towards town.

……………………………………..

After a few more days in Annecy we decided to hitch across Switzerland back home to Germany. As we were walking towards the North edge of town I was telling Hil about a guy called Jonathon who used to empty his wallet into my case every time he saw me busking in the tunnel.
Right then there was a shout from a bus stop across the street and a man waved and dodged through traffic towards us.
"Hello James" he said as he plugged a cigarette into each of our mouths. "Still broke?"
He opened his wallet and gave me 200 francs. "There's my bus" he added.
Then he was gone. We just stood there dumbfounded and started laughing.
Jonathon waved from his bus and was never seen again.

I can't recall much of the journey back to Bavaria. We may have stayed overnight in Schaffhausen with the Spengler family. From there I think we went straight to Munich and out to Gogland in Pasing where JB and Jan along with half of Dublin were living on Bodensee Strasse.
The lads were all out on the roof when we showed up. It was a scorcher of a day. They had a bucket of water with luke warm Ottinger beers floating in it. A half dozen spliffs were going round. Radio Gong was blaring the classics. The lads were obviously looking hard for gainful employment.
I had to yell up a few times before I heard shushing from the roof. Then I saw Kieron's face peer cautiously over the edge.
Shortly we were all up on the roof and joining in with the search for work.

So ended the tale of the golfing umbrella tent.

Jun 19, 2010

Grahams Glacier

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots Band at Grahams in Glacier.

Good gig.
Me, Donald, Phil and Chuck.

This time round we were more attune to the comings and goings of the venue's inhabitants.
So we weren't worried when the place emptied out after the first set. Sure enough an hour later it had filled back up again.
Being the eve of the 4th of July, there were fireworks going off randomly outside. Some sounded like serious dynamite. One particular firework boomed in the sky above Grahams and left an ominous mushroom cloud that lingered like flack in a bombing raid.
But I digress.

To the gig…..

Chuck on his drums adds that extra oomph that we need for this gig. He has a style that somehow manages to sound friendly. That's quite a talent. It was a shame Chris wasn't there too. Her vocals and percussion would have been icing on the cake.

We set up our stall so that we weren't staring straight out the front door like last time. All that opening and closing can be just as distracting as a bar room TV. I think too that newcomers can get scared off as they enter and see a band shouting directly at them. I guess that could appear a bit threatening.

Musically there was not much new but there was a fresh sense of fun to the gig. Might have been that cool high elevation mountain air we were breathing at the interval.
The last set was especially enjoyable as we passed midnight and moved officially into the 4th of July. To celebrate, we played Bob Dylan's 115th Dream.

There sure seems to be a tight little community out there in Glacier that revolves around Grahams. I don't think we've booked any further gigs out there but it would be nice to be back at some point.
As Chuck put it so eloquently, "Glacier Rocks!"

We finished up about 12:30 and headed back down the Mount baker Highway to Bellingham.

Thanks Hil for lending us the car. Thanks Jan for doing the door. Ozzie would have been proud.

I never realized that Jan was such a heavy metal fan. Especially Black Sabbath and extra especially Ozzie Ozbourne who was declared a,"fuckup, but a really cuddly fuckup."
Jan told me a story of Ozzy doing a Halloween TV special where he was supposed to dress as a zombie Santa Claus or something. The producers wanted bubbles to come out of his outfit. Ozzie turns round and says. "Listen mate, I'm the Prince of Fuckin' Darkness here. I don't do fuckin bubbles."
I saw him once at the Glasgow Apollo Theatre around 1985. He hardly seemed to be the bat eating satanic character I'd heard tell of. In fact he came across as a really warm hearted and sociable, friendly kind of guy who sang in a heavy metal band and was fucked up. He had the crowd swaying along to songs like Iron Man and Paranoia. It hardly seemed possible. What was most obvious was that the audience loved him for all the right reasons.

The Apollo theatre in Glasgow was an easy 9 mile train ride from my village. Me and my friends used to go regularly to see countless bands there. The only trouble was that if the bands played too long we would miss our last train home. The station was locked and the trains were all sleeping by midnight which was quite amazing for a city of about a million people.

Often I'd end up alone or with my cousin Jimmy, walking the railway tracks 9 miles home. The last third towards Neilston wasn't so bad because the city petered out and we'd find ourselves out on the moors walking along in the utter silence past silvery lakes and familiar silhouetted hills. Despite our weariness, it was magical.

………………………………………………………….

There was another time I went to an Ozzy concert. This time it wasn't at the Glasgow Apollo. In fact it wasn't even in Glasgow.
It was at the Monsters of Rock Festival which took place several hundred miles south of Neilston in the English town of Castle Donington.

This concert was also around 1985.
As I recall it was the same weekend that my cousin Michael was off to hike the West Highland Way. This was a rugged trail that went from Loch Lomond up to Fort William: a distance of about 96 miles. He asked me and our cousin Jimmy if we'd like to go along but we declined. A week of trudging through mud, midges and rain wasn't our idea of a good time. Anyway, we had other bigger plans. Monster plans.

Well on Giro day morning (a Thursday) I picked up my welfare check at the post office. After paying some dig money to my mother, I was left with 16 pounds to spend.
I went round to Jimmy's but he was still in bed. He'd had a bit of a rough night and unless his leather biker jacket and patchy jeans were his pajamas, then I'd guess he'd slept in his clothes. Beside his bed lay what looked like a pizza with carrot topping. Closer inspection revealed it to be a semi solidified pool of vomit.

It took a while to get Jimmy on his feet but after a few cigarettes he was good as new. Well as good as second hand, slightly broken and a littlie scratchy.
It turned out he hadn't got his giro because he'd slept in on signing on day. All we had now was my measly 16 pounds. That wouldn't get us far.
What to do? Our eyes settled on Jimmy's record collection.

My sister Betty kindly bought a Rolling Stones double album. It may have been a rare original edition or someone may have snipped off the 4 corners of the sleeves. Whatever the truth, we now had 22 pounds to get us to Donington and back.
It was Thursday. The gig was on Saturday. We figured that would be enough time to get us there.

Off we went to the Pakistani shop at the far end of the village. Here we bought supplies for the journey to Oz: twenty four cans of lager. Then taking turns each carrying it, we set off West down the Beach Tree Road. This was pleasant country of farmland, moors and rolling hills. It was a beautiful sunny day.
Three miles later we were sitting on a wall in the tiny hamlet of Uplawmoor. By then we'd drank a fair amount of our supplies. I think we got too comfy there and it was early evening before we set off again heading for the main road South.
We stuck our thumbs out and soon got a lift from an elderly woman. The beer had gone to our heads and we spent the journey chatting her up. She dropped us off 15 miles later at a roundabout near Kilmarnock. Jimmy promptly collapsed in the grass and crashed out. I was feeling a bit dizzy myself. At least we had no baggage left to carry.

A few lifts later and we crossed through the border town of Annan as passengers in an oil tanker. Now we were in England. It was night and we were soon walking along a 2 lane highway on the grass verge. Headlights blinded us as lorries roared by choking us with exhaust fumes. We weren't hitch hiking anymore: we were just hiking.
Sometime in the darkness, the landscape changed. As dawn broke, everything seemed greener, gentler, and lusher, with fields full of crops. This was a cozy landscape with quaint redbrick houses. It even felt warmer. In fact England looked tinder dry.

We got a lift into Manchester by some guys in an empty removal van. The driver left the shutter door open at the back so that we had some light. We started off lazing back on our elbows but with every slight uphill incline we found ourselves sliding uncontrollably towards the gaping maw of the great outdoors. We clutched like horizontal mountaineers to tiny cracks on the floor as each bounce tried to dislodge us and suck us out.
Finally missing a few fingernails, we got set down. We went immediately into a shop and bought some chocolate. The shop lady scrutinized our Scottish money with suspicion. I guess she'd never seen a Scottish bill before but thankfully she accepted it.
We walked the entire length of Manchester in searing heat. It seemed England was in a drought year. That's not something likely to ever happen in Scotland.

The next lift that picked us up was a milk van. It was an old fashioned thing that bumbled along at 10 miles an hour and looked like a parade float.
"I can only take you about a mile", the driver said cheerfully. We sat in the back. The milk van was loaded with crates of soft drinks. We eyed them enviously. Too soon the lift was over. We got out. "Help yourself to a bottle" said the driver.
"Oh no thanks", I said.
He drove off into the haze like a mirage.
I remember Jimmy cracked up. "What the fuck? We're dying of thirst here and you say no thanks? What were you thinking?"
"I was sure he'd say just take one."
Jimmy shook his head despairingly.

By Friday night we had reached Castle Donington. We swiftly made up for our recent lack of liquids. We were in and out of half the bars in town. We discovered there was a deposit back on empty glasses. People were outside drinking on the streets. We ran around collecting their empties (and some not so empties) and managed to continue drinking till closing time even though we'd ran out of funds hours earlier.

Nexy morning I woke up in a small tent as the flap opened and a shoe came flying in. It hit me on the chin. I let out a long torrent of bad language. A foreign voice asked, "Wott did ee say?" Then I heard Jimmy's voice outside translating. "He said ouch."
Jimmy'd been up early mingling with the natives and bumming cigarettes and beer. People seemed both fascinated and wary of us. Who were these strange beings who come out of the distant North lands fueled on alcohol with their unkempt ways and strange guttural language?
I remember strolling away from the tent. Jimmy had just bummed a swig of lager from someone and then just walked off with the can. "Can I borrow this" he'd asked the stranger?

As we walked along, I turned to him and asked how we'd ended up at that tent. "No idea" he said puffing happily on a borrowed cigarette.

…………………………………….

Castle Donington was a small town. Every year it hosted the biggest heavy metal festival in Europe. (I think) An enormous stage was constructed in the grounds of a Grand Prix racing track .The area was then fenced in and would hold 80,000 heavy metal fans. This particular year there would be 80,002. This was our destination and the reason we'd hitched South for hundreds of miles.
To be honest we hadn't come all that way to see Ozzy, we'd come to see/hear ACDC.
There was a good line-up that year. I can't remember them all but there was ACDC of course: also Van Halen, Motley Crew, Ozzie, Accept and Garry Moore. All good bands in their own right but ACDC were the headliners.

And so through the festival gates we went armed with 37 pence. Fortunately we'd had the foresight to buy our tickets a long time in advance.
I think fatigue was beginning to catch up with us as the day wore on. As each band came and went, we slumped lower and lower into the ground. We dozed on and off for most of the day. Occasionally a joint came our way. I was starving and I went round the extortionately priced food stalls looking for something for 37 pence. Not a hope. Thirty seven pence wouldn't buy a sniff of a burger.
By the time Garry Moore had held the longest sustained note in history and Ozzie had finished kicking rubber bats off stage and Accept had finished posing and Eddie Van Halen had finished his umpteenth guitar solo that sounded like a motorbike, we were bollox tired.
Nevertheless when the sun finally sank, we were both right up the front determined to enjoy ACDC's show. The band was of course great and we did enjoy it till half way through the gig, when we were both hit by colossal waves of yawning dizziness. We stumbled off to the side where the noise was less intense. There were some camp fires and we stood around one staring blankly into its flames.

An unspoken decision was reached and we were suddenly shuffling towards the exit.
ACDC were actually still playing but we were mentally somewhere else. They sounded like they were singing out the wrong end of a telescope.
It was time to go. Time to hit the Highway To Hell.

I think we figured if we left early we might get a lift somewhere North from some driver going our way. But in the confusion outside the arena we had no idea where we were. Cars and crowds were criss-crossing to and fro. Headlights were blinding us. Car horns blared while every car radio blasted a different heavy metal song. It was mayhem. We were lucky to keep track of each other. We did not get a lift.
We set off walking, unsure even of what compass direction we were going.

That night, I believe we walked 35 miles. We didn't talk much. There was nothing to say. Walk don't talk. Glasgow was hundreds of vague miles to the North.

We began to have bouts of hallucination due to over fatigue. I saw comfy cloud like bushes and vine shaped people lying in the hedgerows. Jimmy saw sausages and fried eggs. We constantly were pulling each other out of the way of oncoming traffic as we were drawn moth like to their headlights. Luckily we seemed to alternate our halicegenic lapses. I'd save him then I'd start to waver then he'd save me. It was a dangerous moment as we quite literally sleepwalked for 35 miles.

No car stopped for us during that insane march but the following day we had more luck. Somehow by late afternoon we arrived in the ancient walled city of York. We knew that York was fairly North and on the English East coast. We had no map and no water. The day had been a scorcher and we were parched with thirst. In a graveyard we found an old plastic container. It was dented and full of dead spiders and flies and cobwebs. We took it to a chip shop and waited in the queue. The delicious aroma of fish n chips almost made us faint. When it came to our turn we handed the chip lady our container and asked her if she'd fill it with water for us. For a long moment I thought she was going to say no. She just stood there looking at the container in my outstretched hand like I was presenting her with road kill and asking if she'd fry it up for me. Finally she half filled it and handed it back. We thanked her gratefully and left.
The container was still filled with dead bugs but we didn't care. We both took long swigs then set off again. A voice from behind made us turn round. "That's a big bottle of gin" it said merrily. We just stared: too tired to change expression. The guy swiftly crossed the road. We seemed to have an odd effect on strangers.

Apparently because England was in the middle of a drought, water was in short supply. I guess the chip shop woman had been very kind to give us a ration of water.

York was also famous for its horse racing track. As we continued our odyssey this track appeared on our left and the highway was on our right. Horses thundered along the turf just a few metres away while cars were zooming along on our right. I'd no idea how we'd gotten there. I turned to Jimmy and said, "I wish we had a map."
And I'm not joking or exaggerating when I say that at that very second, a map appeared in front of us, spread open and flapping in a bush. It was even the right map.
We looked at one another and Jimmy said, "Next time wish for some money."
Well we studied it and found where we were.
We decided to head towards a motorway in the neighbourhood of Leeds. And so we left York and its well defended chip shop behind.

We figured there was about 200 miles to go.
Jimmy groaned. "Two hundred miles! Without cigarettes? It can't be done."
But there was nothing to do but keep walking.

We were plodding along on country roads with the sun beating down on us, when we came to a wee shop. It was one of those little grocery stores that sell a few tins of this and that: The kind with an old lady behind a counter who calculates costs on a piece of paper.
The time had come to spend the 37 pence.
What could be bought with 37 pence? Not much. Jimmy sat outside while I went in. "get something that'll last" He said.
I came back out with 5 bubble gums. Now we were broke.
Two bubble gums each and one left over.
"Will I just eat this last one", I said to jimmy?
"Will ye fuck."
Knives flashed out in a second. It looked like there's about to be a blood bath.
I cut the bubblegum in two. We both oversaw the procedure like it was a heavy drug deal.

Later that night the temperature dropped and a fog came down. We sheltered for a little while under a highway bridge. Something was crawling about in the hedgerow. It was an albino bat. "Ozzie must be around here somewhere" muttered Jimmy. And I do believe we laughed.

But by now Ozzie was far behind, all tucked in, fast asleep in his bat cave. We on the other hand were wandering hopelessly North towards Scotland in the middle of some anonymous night.
We were now both on automatic pilot mode, sticking our thumbs in the air at regular intervals even though the highway was deserted. This was a psychological condition referred to as Hitcher's Hike or Hitcher's Twitch. It's known to occur when someone has been severely over exposed to bad hitching conditions for too long. The slightest noise can cause the victim's thumb to go up: the tweet of a bird, a rustle of a tree: sometimes nothing at all. The only cure is time and rehab.

The highway was deserted. Uninhabited. Everything had turned eerily silent. Jimmy stooped and picked up a soggy, ragged cigarette butt. "Oh wow", he croaked in what sounded like a tired exclamation of joy. I though he was going to weep, He'd been reduced to smoking roadside butts for some time. He'd found a damp packet of roll up papers somewhere. They were all stuck together but he'd used them anyway. This new butt was a good specimen. Someone had only taken a few puffs then tossed it from a car window.
Jimmy put it in a pocket to dry off.

We were only half a mile past the the albino bat when Jimmy slumped to the ground. He simply curled up on the verge like road kill.
I stood beside him like a scene from the Irish Potato Famine picture that hangs in Catholic living rooms everywhere. A grim depiction of despair and failure. A very sorry sight.
After a few minutes, I helped him to his feet. He was completely exhausted and babbling incoherently about cigarettes and how they keep you warm and can ward off evil spirits.
It looked like the bitter end. But even if it was, there was no where to turn. There was no off switch. No changing the channel. We could only keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Then, from nowhere a battered old VW bus appeared. It pulled over and we stumbled in the side door. Unbelievably we were moving. The interior was dark except for some luminous green dashboard lights. Up front separated from the back by a driftwood barricade, I saw 2 male silhouettes. Through the windshield, two headlights sniffed the road.
We sat gratefully on a wooden bench along the side. I remember I moved my foot and discovered there was someone in a sleeping bag on the floor.
The engine roared like an aeroplane and made any thought of talk with our rescuers impossible. Not that we were feeling chatty. Jimmy pulled the soggy cigarette out of his jacket pocket. He handed it to me and indicated that I should ask one of the pilots to light it. I held it up gingerly. It had drooped like an "n" shape. I held it by one leg and passed it through the barricade and asked the passenger to light it. I wasn't sure he understood my accent. He turned his head and looked at the droopy cigarette then took it slowly and held it up ceremoniously for the driver to see. They both looked at it then at one another. It resembled a large dead maggot. It was a rather surreal moment: sort of eerie and slow motion. After the cigarette had been thoroughly looked at, the passenger passed it back the way it had come, unlit. A grubby hand came out of the shadows and drew it back into the abyss.

We were dropped off at Scotch Corner in the wee wee hours. This place boasted a large rather grand looking hotel and a Y junction. The East road went towards Newcastle, the West road headed for Scotland. The car left us there and went East. We walked into the dawn on the West road and were still walking right into the scorching afternoon. We were starving, thirsty and dilusional. Not that different than back home perhaps but home was far far away.

By then it was about Tuesday. We'd left Neilston on Thursday and had our last real meal on Wednesday. Jimmy's last meal had probably crawled under his bed by then. That was almost a week ago. At this rate of progress we'd be still hitching North for a month. We were feeling justifyably mean and cranky and a bit violent. Knives would be cutting more than gum next time they came out.

In actual fact we were making progress. We were now in the Scottish Borders area. Glasgow was only about 100 miles further North but though there were plenty of cars on the highway, none were stopping.

We discussed calling Jimmy's father and asking him for a lift home. It was a long shot but we were desperate.
So we stopped outside a quant little roadside cottage with a bright rosy garden and began to argue.
Jimmy said, "You go knock on that door and ask to use the phone."
To which I replied angrily, "it's your dad we're calling. Shouldn't you knock on the door?"
"Well maybe I will. And maybe he'll pick me up and leave you here."
Then I growled in exasperation and marched furiously up the garden path towards the ivy framed doorway. I knocked on the door then turned back to Jimmy who waited at the gate kicking stones. I pointed at him and in a rage I shouted, "Jimmy, you're just a pri…"
Then the door opened. A girl stood there. Skinny, maybe 16 years old, tank top, shorts.
"….Can I use your telephone please?"

Shortly, we were all 3 in the kitchen. Jimmy made the call to a neighbour in Neilston who had to run round to Jimmy's place, relay the message, then call us back.
In between the calls we stood around awkwardly. The girl kept her suspicious eyes on us.
Can I have a drink of water" I asked?
She pointed to the sink.
The phone rang. She picked it up and handed it to Jimmy.
I could hear tinny laughing on the line and a far metallic voice saying something like "…Not the f***ing Lone Ranger." Jimmy hung up. We left and started walking again.
During the episode, we never heard the girl speak. Maybe she couldn't.

A few thirsty miles later, we were walking on high bankings beside the increasingly noisy road. There was heavy duty road works going on. The country side normally would have been a picture of rural serenity but on this day it was an industrial eruption of jack hammers, drilling and steam rollers that drowned all other country noises.
The high banking verge we were on put us at good eye contact level with passing lorry drivers but as ever no one stopped for us.
By then we were resigned to walking all the way to Neilston. My mind was pondering the idea that I could get a dishwashing job somewhere nearby and save for a bus fare back home. It would probably be faster.

Once again though we were parched with thirst. Glancing over a dry stone wall we both spotted a cow trough in the middle of a field. It appeared to contain water. A little muddy perhaps. A little stagnant. A little E Coli. But to us it was like an oasis.
We leapt the wall and made a B-line straight for the trough, ready to battle cows and drink that tankard dry.
Out of the blue we heard a honk. It stopped us in our tracks. It was a lorry. The driver was beckoning to us. A few seconds later we were in his cab. He was a middle aged English man. His voice was jovial. "I saw you two heading for that trough and I said to myself, those 2 need a lift."

He hadn't any water but he had a large piece of cardboard and a magic marker pen. By the time he dropped us off at a roundabout in Dumfries, we had a big sign that read, "Glasgow."

Two English yuppies picked us up and said they are driving all the way to Glasgow airport. This was great news. Glasgow airport is only a few miles from Neilston. Unfortunately they were convinced that Glasgow had 2 airports. I tried to tell him otherwise but in the end we were dropped out at Glasgow Central Train Station.
We appreciated the lift but were exasperated because we now had a nine mile hike instead of a four mile hike.
There was nothing to do but start walking. We couldn't follow the train tracks this time as it was still only early evening and the tracks were still in use.
Out through the housing schemes we plodded. Past the Gorbals, Pollockshields East, Queens Park, Langside, Pollock, The Hurlet, past the turn off for the airport, and across the breadth of Barrhead.
Finally, unbelievably we were on the last turn off to Neilston. A mere two miles to go. On we trudged in grim silence. Up the Kirk Hill Brae, that killer 45 degree gradient that went up, up, up to Neilston.
We reached the summit just as a neighbour drove by and asked if we wanted a lift. We declined.

At the junction of our streets, we parted without words. Swirls of starlings were flocking around the trees at the Manse, alternately roosting and taking off. Twilight was settling in.
The village was very quiet. No ticker tape parade. Then I heard what sounded like an echo of thunder resonating around the hills. Jimmy had slammed his front door. Jimmy was home.
Rumour has it that he devoured an entire loaf of bread then hibernated for two days.

The next Giro Day, me, Jimmy and Michael were in the Killock Bar.
Michael asked, "How was the concert?"
"Fine. How was the West Highland Way?"
"Oh I gave up after 2 days. It was raining."

Jun 18, 2010

Boundary Bay Brewery and Alehouse Bellingham Washington

Fish Fry Friday
Boundary Bay Beer Garden.

It's a funny thing that there's never much to say about good gigs. They were good and that's it. Not much happened: kinda like package holiday tours to Sweden.

It was a sunny day and the beer garden was buzzing. The whole Muddy Boots band was on stage for this one: Myself, Donald, Charlie and Phil. Tree was there too, making one of his last obligatory drumming appearances.

As usual not a practice in sight. I've lost track of when the last one occurred. These days, they're rare as eclipses or monkey tusks.
Despite this handicap, we had a great gig. There was an occasional rogue note but we had good energy right from song one.

There was a decent sized crowd who indulged in lots of free-style hoola-hooping and dancing. I figured that our usual starter "Who'll Rock That Cradle" wasn't going to cut it with this crowd. So we kicked off with Wang Dang Doodle.

In the second half we played all our "hits", Blowing Down the River, Chuckanut, Henhouse, Annecy, Injara, Cardboard box.
I guess the alcohol must have been kicking in to the crowd. A lot of them were boogying around and when we finished they wanted a couple more. Which was nice. So we played, Mojo Working and All by Myself. Everyone went home happy.

In short: Good gig. Quite tight. Lot's of fun.
The fish and chips weren't bad either.
…………………………..

Talking of fish……..

I was never much of a fisherman. When we were kids we did go fishing around Neilston quite often but I never reeled in a fish. Once I caught a waterlogged rusty motorbike. Another time, same place, I caught a garden shed. Not bad for 6 lb breaking strain.
I believe my plastic bubble still hangs where it snagged 30 years ago on a pylon wire by the Black Adder Dam. I never had any luck. Not even one that got away.

Wullie, a fellow Neilstonian, on the other hand was a good fisherman. He'd reel them in like he was using magnets for bait. He'd make it look as easy as dipping a ladle in a soup bowl.
One day he was fishing up at the Lint Mill Dam and he kept catching useless half sized fish. This went on all afternoon and he began to get frustrated and a bit angry. Finally when the umpteenth little fish came up, he grabbed it in a fit of rage and bit its head off. He spat it venomously out into the water and yelled threateningly at the headless body in his fist, "Tell yer fuckin pals it's the same for them if they come up here again." Then he threw it back.
I guess that's catch and release.

Jun 5, 2010

Beach Store Cafe Beer Garden Washington

Beach Store Café
Lummi Island.

We (me, Hil and Ronan) went back up to the Highland games in Ferndale. Hovander Park sure was a lot noisier than it had been the previous day. There's nothing like a couple of thousand bagpipers to bring a different perspective to a quiet country park.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. We wandered around amidst the skirl of the pipes, watched the caber tossing, and checked out the clan booths. There were plenty of clans but no Higgins. We saw, Clan MacDonald, McKenzie, Campbell, and Clan Kettle Corn. The latter not so well known and luckily not spelt with three "K"s. We heard the Wicked Tinkers playing. We checked out the medieval swords, shields and axes tent. Ronan bought a foam sword and I got some miniature bagpipes. We couldn't stay long but it was a good family outing for the Clan Higgins.

We headed out to Gooseberry Point and picked up Charlie and met up with Donald, Phil and Chuck before heading over on the ferry to Lummi Island.

The Beach Store Café is just around the corner from the ferry landing. It is owned by Arizona Joe who plays with Wide Open, a band who have been around forever. We set up on the stage in the beer garden out back. Joe was really hospitable and helpful and made us feel right at home.

We started about 7pm and got off to the worst possible start with half the band playing "Rock That Cradle" while the other half played "Please Don't Go." That must have raised a few eyebrows. We got the next few right till "Fontainebleau" went completely wonky at the first bridge. We fumbled through that until we came to its second bridge which crashed and burned spectacularly but we made it across.

Jeez. We really need to get back to some regular practicing. It's time to pull ourselves up by our Muddy Boot straps. I think we can manage that.

Luckily the mistakes were mostly confined to the first half hour. We weathered them and by the second set we were gaining momentum and hitting our old familiar stride. Feet were tapping and hands were clapping. By the 3rd set we were full steam ahead and there was dancing on table tops and whooping all around the garden. The locals were on fine form. Sadly we had to cut it a tiny bit short so we could pack up and catch the last ferry back.
In the end we had a great evening and our earlier troubles were forgotten. Chuck was an inspiration. Charlie was back, alive and percolating. Donald and Phil were thumping and a-sliding.
I guess two disasters from a possible 40 isn't too bad in the end. But it did make me think.

I believe I like Lummi Island. We always have fun out there. It's soothing to get away from the ever present traffic noise. Even though it's only a short ferry ride to Lummi, it feels like another country.
As we were hurrying for the midnight ferry, one local laughed and said, "Don't worry. There'll be no queue. Who'd be going to America at this time of night?"

Jun 4, 2010

Bellingham Highland Games in Ferndale Washington

Highland Games.
Ferndale. WA.

This was a gig for the overnight campers at the Highland Games. They were a friendly bunch of maybe 150 souls all decked out in tartan.
In true Scottish tradition it had been raining for about 3 weeks but by a miracle the sky cleared an hour before we were to play.
The stage was kind of strange. It had no roof or canopy and was set up in the middle of an empty field. We looked like we were adrift on a raft.

I guess it was a decent enough gig. We had Yan playing mandolin with us. Chris and Chuck were on drums and percussion. They all played great. We had some fine moments like Injara, Cardboard Box and Ride on but we had some fundamental mess ups (not their fault) that really highlighted The Muddy Boots' lack of recent practice.

An unexpectedly entertaining song was There Ain't No Bugs On Me which evolved spontaneously from a loose jam and went for a nice long walk with one chord.
A lot of fun but as a wise man said, "A man cannot live on jam alone."

The real highlight of the night though must have been when Chuck and his daughter Isabel got 2nd place in the talent contest (Scottish Idol). They did a Go-Gos' song. She played drums and Chuck played Bass. "Face it", said Chuck into the microphone, "What could be more Scottish than The Go Gos?"

Afterward, Glen the event organizer gave us all tickets to the real Highland Games that officially started the following day. That was a real bonus and everyone was delighted. On top of that, we even got paid.

May 29, 2010

Glacier: In the little park by the shop.

Harvey Haggard Hoedown.

This was certainly a gig of 2 halves.

Part 1 took place outside on the green behind Graham's restaurant. (Graham Green). Unfortunately the drizzling rain had kept the people away. Actually it got a little busy for a time but the poor brave souls hovered under the tent canopies around the edges of the field while soggy kids ran around playing football.
We'd played on this same little stage a few years back. Last time we'd been out in the blistering sun and I'd got burnt to a crisp. This time we were under a claustrophobic canopy with flaps closed down on 3 sides. I wouldn't have minded a flap down the front too.

The people were friendly though. They were disappointed in the weather too but were determined to make the most of the circumstances. They'd been looking forward to this event. There was a hot dog stand and a social tent, a face painting tent and some art work for sale.
I guess there was live music too. We played for about an hour until it was mutually decided to continue playing unplugged inside Graham's restaurant next door. I think everyone agreed that this was a fine idea.

Funny in all the years I've gone up and down the Mount Baker Highway, I'd never actually gone into Grahams.
Well it had a warm, cozy and lively atmosphere that reminded me of Christmas. Behind the bar counter was a huge saloon style mirror. The walls were adorned with old black and white photographs and posters. Apparently The Call of the Wild was filmed out near here years ago: the version that starred Clark Gable. Some of the supporting actors are still missing.

The tables and chairs were of rustic design and it seemed everyone was eating cake. There was a huge wood stove beside our "stage". It looked like an enormous can of beans. In an adjoining room was a pool table which will now go down in history as the table where Ronan first played pool.
So we played the second part of our gig. Tree was playing a watered down drum kit with no bass drum. Donald, Charlie and Phil were plugged in quietly. I wasn't plugged into anything.
A lot of familiar faces from outside had made the short commute. We were like old friends now. We had a great night.
And so we played for about an hour. We focused our energy into that hour and played a tight bunch of material that had the folks on their feet and dancing around creating a merry atmosphere in the place. There was even a phantom harmonica player.
I'm not sure if we gave the folks a good time or if they gave us a good time. But who ever was to blame, there were certainly a lot of contented people. Maybe it was the cake.

I think we finished about 10pm by which time I was completely hoarse. I think the Boots enjoyed it all too. It was certainly a fun gig with a good bunch of people.

………………………

People are always fascinated by my cazumpet. A man near the front asked me, "How did you drill a hole through that curly piece of wood?"
"Ah" I said." You see, the wood was originally straight when I drilled the tunnel through its length. Then I bent the wood afterwards."
"Aha. I see" he said.
"Do you believe me", I asked?
"Yes I do" he said. Then he looked at me more closely and laughed. "I mean no. Well eh … maybe?"

So outside on the front deck after the gig, Tree told us he was quitting the Muddy Boots. "My time with this band is over." he announced.
That's a shame because, I really relied on Tree's steady thump to keep me from wavering out of rhythm which I am prone to do when I'm singing, guitaring, harmonica-ing, conducting, cazumpeting and trying to remember lyrics all at the same time. He laid down a good solid beat that said, "get on board or F@@k off."

So now that Charlie is heading to Yakima after the Summer, it looks like Muddy boots are dropping like flies. Looks like we'll literally have to regroup.

……………

As far as I remember The Harvey Haggard story went something like this…..
Harvey Haggard was either the first man on the moon or the first guy to do the Ski to Sea race such as it was about a hundred years ago. I think there were about 14 competitors in that race. Among them were Bob Dylan and Bela Lugosi.
Harvey was first off the mountain and somehow got on a train back to Bellingham. On board, he was apparently naked and getting a massage (that's his story anyway) when the train hit a red bull and was derailed. The naked Harvey was then put on horseback but the horse threw him. He then hitched a lift into Bellingham where the locals passed the hat for him and later the good people of Glacier announced him King of Glacier. They celebrated by BBQ ing the red bull.

He was Harvey at the start but he was Haggard by the end.
That's what Shannon said anyway.


Well all that Ski to Sea talk has put me in mind of my own thankfully brief athletic career.

The Legendary Neilston Pad Race had no cycling section or canoe or kayak portions. Certainly no train ride back to town. This race was a straight forward murderous slog. There and back again.

The Neilston Pad is a big plateau hill that is as part of Neilston as the People. It looms in the distance a few miles beyond the village to the south west. It rises about 800 feet above sea level and it is the shape of Ayres Rock in Australia. The North side is completely bare of trees yet the South is forested. This gave the Pad the appearance of a sprawling lion with a mane of pine.
Its flanks are so steep that when you climb it you use your hands as much as your feet: hauling yourself up by grasping long tufts of grass for handholds.

The shortest route to the Pad from Neilston was to take the high street out of town then cut across some fields at the old quarry past the water tower. This was the Kingston Road and it was famed for inducing birth contractions in overdue mothers. It rose and fell like a rollercoaster. Cars often left the ground as they skimmed over the crest of each hill. If it didn't induce births it could at least induce vomiting.

There was also the cross country route used once a year in May by the entrants of the Pad Race. This course cut across fields and bogs and anything that got in the way. It went over cows and through bushes and rivers and farmyards.

The first time I signed up for the Pad race I was just a wee skelf of a lad with hardly a muscle to my name. I was about 12 years old and thus I have the excuses of being young, impressionable and naive. That year, there were about 14 runners. Quite a low turn out. But at least if I finished last, I could say I was 14th. That sounded more respectable than saying I was last. If anyone asked how many had raced, I would say, "Oh I don't know".

The Pad race is part of the spectacle of The Neilston Cattle show. This Fair is always held on the first Saturday in May. Farmers parade their livestock, Pipe bands play, there is a beer tent and there are carousels and dodgems and candy apples and gold fish to be won. It's a big event. Tradition dictates that it shall always rain. That year was true to form. Wellies and umbrellas were the fashion of the day.
I remember the pipe band gathered round the open hood of a car where someone had hooked up a TV to the battery and the Scottish Cup final was on.

I remember wandering around feeling damp and hungry. Then quite suddenly I'm on the starting line. Me and my fellow self condemned idiots, set to tackle the Pad.

Then we were running. Running far too fast to have any hope of even reaching the Pad before keeling over of a heart attack. But there were more serious things in life than mere heart attacks on the moors. We had to look good as we did a lap of the field before heading off under the train tunnel and into the unknown.
The course was poorly marked as I recall. I think the organizers assumed that we all knew where the Pad was and we were expected to simply follow the path of least resistance.
That path involved about four miles of barbed wire fences, angry cows, mud, ice, sleet, rain, toxic dumps and the occasional ambush from nutters in the bushes who'd lob half empty cans of pissed in lager and cigarette butts at the runners. Who knows maybe that was the en route refreshments?

I'd been completely out of breathe by the time we'd sprinted through the train tunnel. My skinny wee milk bottle legs were weighed down by football sized clumps of mud. I had no idea what race position I was in but I never saw another runner for the whole first half of the run. When I did finally see them, they were all coming the other way heading back to Neilston. There were about a dozen of them spread out over a quarter mile. My brain was too starved of oxygen to attempt to count past 2. Each as he passed me had a wild feral stare in his glazed eyes.
I tried to make a calculation in my addled head as to my relative position in the race. "Eleven plus one equals twelve. Plus me. Equals? Was there 14? Am I last? Was there one more ahead? Was there one behind me. Was there 2 behind me? "I couldn't think straight at all. That meant there was another runner unaccounted for. "Or was it two?" All I could do was keep running and assure myself that it made no difference whatsoever. It would be a miracle if I even finished the race intact. Still, no one likes to be last.

Long distance running plays odd tricks on the mind. Picture a book. On page one, written in scrawled black ink, there is a half formed question followed by some nonsensical phrase. Turn the page and there it'll be again. Page after page of the same gibberish. In your head you try to change the words but they keep returning to the same chewed up group of words that jumble around as you run. It could be anything: "what's the where do I kamooshka, kamooshka rink a mooshka…" A chant. A spell to ward off evil. A charm. Maybe a prayer.

As I neared the Pad my mind was speaking in feverish tongues. I saw a big red five bar gate in the distance. It grew steadily larger and larger in my flooded vision. There, before it, slouched a weary figure on the ground, elbow on knee, forehead in hand, eyes down. I ran past then stopped on top of the gate with a leg on either side. "Are you ok" I asked?
His body made no movement. "Aye", came the quiet reply. Then I turned and looked at the Pad.

It rose up before me like a giant grassy wall. An immobile close-up of a tsunami wave. My route was about to make right angle turn up into the sky.
I jumped off the gate which rattled metallically behind me like a dog on a chain. I splashed across a brown pothole and began the ascent. Only a little while ago I'd been exhausted running round the cattle show field. And yet here I was; 2 miles later, still going. But I was living strictly in the tormented rinkamooshka moment. The Fair could have been a million years ago. Returning there was just an abstract theory.

Up and up I went. How could I still be putting one foot in front of the other? Maybe I feared that the figure at the gate had gotten up and was chasing me. I was not last and I was determined not to be Skitterywinter. I was too afraid to look back. For all I knew he could have been right behind my shoulder. By this stage I too had that wild haunted expression I'd seen on the faces of the other runners.

What caused it? Was it that inborn stubborn Scottish streak that dictates that if a task is impossible, then at least we'll die trying? We could all have dropped out at any time but no one did. Anyway once you are well on your way to the Pad, where else are you going to go. After all, the race ended back where we'd started.
Were these the faces of men going to their execution? Was this torture and execution combined? Death by Pad Race. Was this the anguish that McPherson took to the gallows when he broke his fiddle in two after playing one last tune? Were these the grim blank masks worn by the "Ladies From Hell" as they climbed from the trenches and marched across No Man's Land playing their deafening bagpipes? No wonder the enemy shot at them. I guess Scots must like to die with a tune in their head. It would indeed be a shame to die without a song in your head. Better than a bullet I suppose. I can only speculate.
Were they simply the exposed alarmed expressions of farm raised couch potatoes who'd never ran farther than to the bus stop in their life's, now suddenly realizing that they were no longer the sprites of their youths? Certain TV truths are lies. The bionic man doesn't exist. Those feats are not possible. The man from Atlantis cannot hold his breath all day. Edmund Hilary probably did not get up from watching a soap opera and go off to the top of the world without any acclimatization.
Or could it just be that we, as a nation, are fundamentally insane.
I can picture a Scottish Tombstone inscription: Here Lies So and So: Died Trying. R.I.P.

Up the hillside I went, using all 4 limbs like a little spider crawling up the great lions flank. I followed the tree line, grabbing at tufts of grass and heaving myself upward. Finally I stood on the withers of the beast. The wind roared in my ears. A man (Billy Wilson) ticked my name off a list then wandered off without a word into the shelter of the trees. I looked back over the expanse of moor and hill. Neilston was far off in the distance. To my left there rose the Ferenese Braes. Behind them sifting in and out of cloud were the Highlands. Beyond Neilston was the giant metropolis of Glasgow. Slightly to my right and a few miles distant stood the dromedary Siamese peaks of The Craigie hill reflected in the Glanderson Dam hemmed in by The Toad Wood.
When I gazed down to the red gate directly below me, there was no sign of the fallen runner. He must have limped home.

And so I descended the great Pad without the haunted face of the other runners. They, engaged in battle and stumbling towards a distant finishing line: me, jogging home. Just a wee Neilston lad in the rain with the moors to himself.

It was down hill all the way to Neilston. I met no one. I can't recall much. It was still a grueling toil but I didn't feel I had to over exert my self. (I couldn't have if I tried.)

But suddenly my tranquillity was disrupted. Right before the end, someone jumped out of a bush just at the tunnel. For a moment I thought I was being mugged. "Wait for me" he yelled as I ran by. He raced after me and fell in beside me as we entered the tunnel. A figure dressed in track suit and hooded sweatshirt and hiking boots. What was this? Death itself come to take me? For sure this must be Hell.
When the finishing line came into view at the other end of the tunnel, the hooded figure suddenly raced ahead, fresh as a daisy. I found myself involved in an unexpected competitive moment. I tried to speed up but I had nothing left. I'd been idling along in a daydream. I was empty. The mystery runner may well have been one of last year's runners who had gone feral or (Most likely) he may just have chickened out of this year's race after the start. He figured he'd pretend he'd gone all the way up the Pad and back. Who'd know? I guess he was unaware of the man who was ticking off names at the top of the Pad.
None of this mattered to the crowd who watched the drama unfold as 2 runners emerged neck and neck from the tunnel. One appeared to still be remarkably fresh and even looked quite clean, but the other had a haunted look on his face. He looked like he may topple over at any second. He was covered in mud, his eyes were vacant and he was lagging further behind. The hooded runner was practically dancing towards the finish line. The crowd was clapping and yelling encouragement.
Was this to be my final shaming? The long slow death of the long distance runner had seemed finally over. I felt like Christ at the Stations of the Cross, aiming for a moving target. It just wasn't fair. I'd already been tagged as last. Now I was really last. No, not fair at all…….Rinka mooshka…. Rinka mooska….

…….The Mud Ball Kid's head went down, his little arms pumped like a death twitch and his muscleless limbs drained his fuel tank to empty and beyond. His mind went to a place beyond pain and marsh. A place where resides an inner whip. The astonished intruder felt, too late, a presence on his shoulder. For a moment he thought an angry bull was charging him. He leapt aside and with 2 steps to go he was passed by a life size claymation figure.

I remember bending double and being incapable of getting enough air into my lungs. I couldn't breathe fast enough. Between my heaving gasps, I managed to squeeze out the words, "Going to be sick". A friend of mine (Paul Murphy) who was waiting at the finish for me was laughing and laughing while the phantom runner was complaining that he'd been swindled.

And so ended my first Pad Race. In my head I still picture that I finished last yet in the end I was actually 3rd last. I'd finished ahead of the injured figure at the gate and the bush man. I have no idea who won.

Epilogue.

The following year I entered again. I don't know why. It's like the mystery of child birth amnesia. If women could remember how excruciating a birth is, then they'd never have a second child.
But there I was. Of this race I remember nothing at all. I know that I finished 6th out of 26. My time over the 4 mile course was 23 minutes. The 5 guys who finished before me were all adults.

May 14, 2010

The Honeymoon Bellingham

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots minus Tree.

As the sun went down over the bay, it really felt like Summer had arrived. The Honeymoon had its doors flung open and the terrace was quite busy. There were even mosquitoes. Yes the place was certainly buzzing. Yup. Buzzin' and a-swattin'.
By 9:30pm most clientele had moved inside.

As we know by now, the Honey moon is a small place. It doesn't take long to get intimate. So there was a sociable and lively atmosphere.
Whatever it is they drink in there, it sure makes folks happy and chatty. Or perhaps it's the cheese.
We set up at the back and I do declare we had a great night.
Sound was good, the bar was full and we even got fed and paid a little. A fairly relaxed gig. Didn't really feel like work at all. Which is how it should be.

………………………..

A few days earlier, I'd taken my guitar to a guy called David Payne to get fixed. I think (hope) that the problem is finally sorted. Apparently it had a dodgy jack plug. He also moved the battery to a more accessible place. With luck I'll have no more embarrassing guitar malfunctions in mid gig. Nor will I have to loosen all my strings to replace dead batteries. Ah luxury. Thanks Dave.

I almost didn't get to test it because after I set up the PA. I noticed I was missing the mixer cable. We were on the verge of an acoustic evening when Charlie turned around and handed me the missing cable. It turned out he'd packed it up last time by accident.

Over all it was an evening well spent. There were a few musical clangers but it was a good gig. The audience was very forgiving to the point of complimentary. I forget sometimes how much fun the Muddy Boots have, playing music together. I guess certain songs like Injara and Dandelion are great canvases for solos. Fortunately Phil and Charlie are great at pulling them off. Other songs like Spoonful and Smokestack Lightning have great grooves. And as we can all appreciate, Groove beats Lyric any day in the Gollum game of Rock, Paper, Scissors

We also played "I will go". I definitely like playing this old Scottish classic. Charlie's backing vocals sure help at the chorus and Donald's bass line is right in the middle between melodic and angry. This song seems to gather life the longer it goes on. It only hits its stride around the 3rd verse.
It might be interesting to end each set with a Scottish song.

Thanks to everyone who showed up. Maybe see you all again next time.

Apr 5, 2010

Fairhaven Martini Bar

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots
The Fairhaven Martini Bar.

Good gig. Nobody there.
A familiar story.
The Fairhaven is a big place. All the bigger when it's empty. Nice chairs though.

We were preceded by a comedian. I use the word loosely. I don't want to put the lad down, so let's skip past him and his act which comprised of crude verbal diarrhea. I can appreciate the artistic value of toilet humour as much as the next guy but I can safely say I've heard far, far superior stuff whilst actually sitting on a toilet pan.

Our Gig was scheduled to last an hour but due to a lack of everything from audience to live music, we played a while longer. It was good practice and I think we were all on decent form. The whole band had showed up. It was a nice big stage too. We started with Rock that Cradle for a sound check then played Spoonful and Blowing Down the River. Then my guitar crackled and died. After some head scratching we got it miked up but lost the volume on the monitor. After that the gig was fine but I'd lost my enthusiasm a bit because I couldn't hear my guitar. Everybody else sounded fine though. The word on the floor was that we were still coming across solid. So that was encouraging. We actually stuck fairly close to our set list which is most unusual.

I'm really getting fed up with empty bars especially when we play well and there's no one there to hear it. There's no denying there are some great musicians in this band with years of experience yet bad luck transpires against us again and again and keeps us surviving off tips, free drinks and menial jobs. Why do we do it? I guess we enjoy it.

Anyway, we played a bunch of original songs with some blues thrown in and we had a blast. When Chuck the host asked us to play a bit longer, it was nice to see the band all nod and agree to continue to enjoy ourselves.

After us, there was another short act. A ventriloquist. He wasn't side-splittingly funny but he came across well and was quite fascinating to watch. He seemed friendly and relaxed and at least acknowledged the intelligence of his tiny crowd. He appeared a far more likeable character than the comedian (Even his dummies were more likeable).
I think his name was Leonardi. Not sure though but it was certainly something Italian.
One of his dummies was a Gorilla dummy. He gave it a Scottish accent. Ironically, afterwards I'd swear Leonardi couldn't understand a word I said.

Thanks to Bruce Hendler for showing up and pitching in to help when my guitar died. At least he got a good seat: right at the front. Sorry we couldn't play Guernica. Maybe I should try work out a band version of it. Thanks also to Hil and Janice for yelling encouragement. (Janice, please remember, if you must graffiti, please sign your own name.) Super thanks to Chuck the host who did a great job setting us all up and making it sound great.

Thank you. Goodnight. You've been a great bunch of chairs.

………………….

But it just wouldn't be right not to end with some toilet humour.
Me and Peter and another Irish guy were waiting for a train in the Furth Bahnhof bar.
We were talking about food handler permits which are required for everyone who works in bars and restaurants in Germany. As part of the procedure the applicant must give a poop sample. The powers that be (The Ampt) send out all the proper equipment so that this procedure can be done in the comfort of home. They supply 2 small plastic jars; one slightly larger than the other. The first is for the sample; the second is to enclose the first for extra security as it travels by post to the head office. They also provide a small plastic spoon, some paperwork and a large brown envelope to seal it in.
My Irish friend was telling us about two friends who were discussing this. The first guy says," Did you get your sample sent off alright?"
The second guy says," I did."
Then the first guy says, "Jeez it's a bastard trying to scoop all that poop into the wee jars before sticking it in the envelope."
The second guy looks at him and says, "What jars was that?"

………………………………….

Mar 17, 2010

Boundary Bay Brewery

Paddy's Day
James Higgins
Solo Gigs at the Boundary Bay.

Lunchtime.
So this Scots guy walks in to a bar with a guitar….

Despite the ungodly hour, a troop of high stepping Irish dancing girls were River Dancing athletically around the bar. The crowd was already fired up and enthusiastically clapping along to some traditional Irish techno music. The young ladies gave quite a spectacular performance. I guess it was a sort of kung fu, tap dancing, jigging, Can Can. Just the thing to help the corned beef and cabbage go down well.
Most definitely a tough act to follow (the dancers: not so much the corned beef. Though that can be tricky too.)

So, me and the soundman Mike (not mic), set up the stage in the corner and I played an hour of Irish and Scottish standards.
A fine line exists between keeping an atmosphere lively whilst maintaining a semblance of digestible lunch time entertainment. Thankfully they were a forgiving sort of audience who were going to be happy with or without my intervention. Bearing this in mind, I mixed sing-along songs such as The Star of the County Down, Whiskey in the Jar and Cockles and Mussels in with more laid back tunes like, The Wild Mountain Thyme and Jock Stewart. In a rebellious moment, I threw in The Foggy Dew. There were no objections.

My set was about an hour long and I had a lot of fun. There were some familiar faces around too, which was appreciated. Jim and Sally were there, and Hil of course, and her friend Barb.

……………………..

Later that Same Day back at the Boundary Bay.

I had a second solo gig there scheduled for 8:30pm.
When I arrived, the Irish dancers were bouncing around again. The crowd were even rowdier then before. There was whooping and shouting and all the usual Paddy's night clatter and chaos. It was difficult just to get in the door. It felt like New Years Eve.
I thought to myself again, "Yup. This'll be a tough act to follow." The dancing girls finished up to rapturous applause. But just as I thought I was to play, up piped a pipe band trio. They commenced to blast the room apart while the crowd got even more worked up. I thought to myself, "Yup, This'll be a hard act to follow too. Perhaps I should just invest in a snug pair of concrete shoes and a vat of quicksand." I was beginning to feel like the incredible shrinking man. Why hadn't I invested in bagpipes instead of a guitar?

Finally, the pipers finished up and I squeezed through the crowd to the stage. There sat Robert Blake and band having a casual dinner of corned beef and cabbage. There'd been nowhere else to sit. A band on stage eating corned beef! Well that looked like an act I might be able to follow. Though as I stated earlier, you never know.

I let them lick their plates before I plugged in. I was in no real hurry. I figured the more time that elapsed between my act and the dancers and pipers, the better.


When I did finally start, I dispensed with anything resembling a ballad and went straight for the sing-along jugular. Naturally this involved a half hour of such inevitable classics as Cockles and Mussels and The Wild Rover. Yan got onstage during Whiskey in the jar O and played some harmonica. Then quite suddenly my St Pat's night was over for another year.

…………………..

I guess the organizers knew that Paddy's Night attendees have a short attention span. Hence the evening program had comprised of a snappy bout of Irish Jigging, followed by a calamitous outburst of bagpiping, followed by a crazy indecipherable screaming Scots guy, followed by the star attraction. Yes, quite an extravaganza and cheap at half the price.
Really it's all about the atmosphere and the craic. I would have liked to stay longer but it was wee Ronan's bed time.

Mar 13, 2010

Boundary Bay Brewery

James Higgins and the Muddy boots.
St Paddy's Parade.
Boundary Bay Brewery Pub

Thanks to the luck of the Irish, the noon day sun shone upon the St Pat's parade. After a colourful noisy meander around town, it all ended outside the Boundary Bay and the thirsty multitudes piled into the beer garden. This fun afternoon was a warm up event to celebrate the upcoming St Patrick's Day and it proved to be a successful dress rehearsal. There was plenty of emerald green on display with a collage of imaginative costumes with Irish themes. I saw 2 people dressed as enormous beach balls in kilts and red haired Tammy hats. Leprechauns were well represented. There was also a guy putting on the ritz with a top hat, coat and tails. Was Fred Astaire Irish? It wasn't till the end that I realized it was Dave from the Irish pub (with Molly there too.) Long time no see.

All members of the Muddy boots Band were present for this one. I'd say we had a good gig: up-tempo and lighthearted. But it was far too short. We didn't even get to play half of our Celtic material. We had tonnes of songs still to play but our one hour slot flashed past.
I wish we could have started 20 minutes later. Most of our audience was watching from a long slow moving beer queue that filed past the stage like a communion line. The majority were just getting comfy when we finished. Everyone though was in good spirits and all out for enjoyment. Their needs were simple: Beer and entertainment. The more beer they drank, the more entertained they felt.

We started with "When Will We Be Married Molly." That got things moving in the right direction. We followed that with Whiskey in the Jar and Donald Where's Yer Troozers. And many more. Well actually not so many more because we didn't have time to get to stuff like The Black and Tans, I Will Go or Whiskey in the Jar O (Yes that's a different song). Due to circumstances beyond my control, we were reduced to a mere skeleton gig.
Originally we'd been scheduled to play for 2 hours but an extra band had been added to the program at the last minute. They took up a half of our original gig time. Then the country dancers upstairs wanted us to stop 10 minutes early so they could jig to their own music.
I guess for us, our gig was kind of anti-climatic; sort of like the last lines had been erased from a short story and replaced with the words, "etc, etc, etc."

We had barely finished our set and were still onstage, when a duo with a fiddle and guitar jumped up and hijacked the moment. They just started playing some apparently unscheduled old timey music. Normally I wouldn't mind, but they were kind of rude: sort of took over our space and never spoke a word to me even when I said hello. I had to pack up around them while they launched into their pre emptive unannounced gig. Yip, welcome to Paddy's Parade fever. Where it's every man for himself.
On top of that, I left without my tips.
But we did get paid.

So it was compact chaos as would be expected in the home strait into Paddy's Night. But we all knew what we'd signed up for. All things considered, I'd say everyone had an enjoyable warm up experience. Roll on Paddy's Night proper.

It's a jungle out there.

Mar 6, 2010

The Honeymoon

James Higgins and The One Muddy Boot.

An interesting gig. What do you do when the band don't show up? Charlie had completely spaced it out. We kept waiting for him to show up but by 9pm it was clear he wasn't coming. Phil was busy elsewhere and Tree and his drum kit skip this venue as it's too small. Thus it was only me and Donald on stage. We'd pulled off duet gigs like this before but we hadn't expected to be stuck on stage completely unrehearsed. We had to rethink our whole approach. Normally a band with 5 musicians can drag a 2 minute song into a 5 minute epic without even trying. So a 2 hour gig might only require about 24 songs. But when all the soloists are removed, the song returns to its bare boned 2 minute self. We figured we'd need twice as many songs as usual. Best thing to do was take it all one set at a time and see what would happen.

We eased into it with a bunch of semi acoustic tunes that at least had some twiddly guitar parts. Rock That Cradle, Bootlegger Blues, Stone River, and Please Don't Go. Some songs such as Can't keep me with its threadbare arrangement of bass, guitar and harmonica actually sounded quite haunting. In fact we began to fairly enjoy ourselves. It was all very pleasant but there were 2 more sets still to go.

In the second set, we threw in a few Irish tunes. Someone then requested some Dylan. So we played You Ain't Going Nowhere, and Bob Dylan's 115th Dream. We also played Willie Dixon's Spoonful which somehow managed to end up as long as ever.

By this time we had ad-libbed our way to the final set. We played The Henhouse with an extra long cazumpet solo, Cardboard Box with a couple of Bass solos and I even twanged a guitar solo on Any Old Time. Suddenly the evening was over. Time flies when your improvising. It had been quite a musical trip. Well done Donald. Thanks Jan for the ride home. Thanks Darla for babysitting Ronan. Thanks also to all those kind mead drinkers who shared our little adventure.

I've never tried mead. Which is odd because I've drank about every alcoholic beverage that's crossed my path. Jan said it is very sickly sweet. Like extra sugary apple juice. It's made from honey. I doubt I'd like it, but I imagine bears could drink a barrel load.

Feb 20, 2010

Chuckanut Brewery

The 3 Ds
Chuckanut Brewery.
Feb.20.

I guess there were five of us. I'm not sure if it was the 3Ds or was it the 3 Denneys plus a mix of Whiskey Galore and The Muddy Boots Band. Whoever it was, they entertained a happy crowd with a bunch of Irish tunes and some bluegrass. Occasionally we'd toss in an unusual ditty like What a Wonderful World. Obviously it's a classic and I love it but it's a bit out of place. Louis Armstrong jazz can be like that when set in the midst of a set of traditional Irish jigs. If you've never heard Wonderful World played on a washtub bass then you better get to a 3 Ds gig at a cinema near you soon.

There were plenty of instruments on show at this gig: Violin, mandolin, banjo, flute, guitar, bouron, tambourine and wash tub bass. I think they were mostly in the capable hands of the Denney Clan while Phil played his acoustic guitar and I twanged away on my wash tub bass. Usually the tub's sound carries really well, but for this gig I literally heard nothing coming out all night. It all got swallowed up by the other ambient noises around the bar.

The wedding party (from Stuarts) showed up again to confirm us as their reception band. I think they wanted another listen before they committed to it. The Bride To Be was approached and was asked, "Do you take this band to be your lawful wedding entertainment?"
"I do", she replied. And everybody cheered and wept tears of joyous abandon.
But just in case… maybe we should do a pre-nup contract in the event that the groom backs out and leaves us waiting at the altar.
At least Wonderful World is a nice song for a wedding party.

Anyway, it was a compact little gig at the Chuckanut Brewery. No real sound check or anything to worry about. We started around 7:30 and ended at 10:00.

Outside during the break, Donald was having a cigarette when a guy emerged out of the shadows of the neighbouring freight yard and bummed a smoke. His voice was one of those gravelly sand paper drawls. He lifted up his shirt and showed us the fresh blood encrusted stitches on his belly. Said he was new in town; had gotten stabbed. Didn't even know the guy who'd attacked him.
The wound looked severe: like someone had etched a game of X and Os on his abdomen with a serious blade. Perhaps some crazy Zorro type with an X motif. Maybe he couldn't sign his name. Probably never heard of "What a Wonderful World".
We wished the stabbed guy better luck and headed back inside. Jan had caught the tail end of the conversation. "Who was that" she asked?
"Friend of Phil's", said Donald.

When all is said and done, I'd say this was fine easy going gig. Not well paid but it was a local venue with minimal hassle: tasty food, good company and generous tips.

What a wonderful world.

………………………

Speaking of, "What a Wonderful World", I guess I first learned it from Peter, way back about 1990. He had a way of knowing unusual songs and pulling them out unexpectedly. Coincidently his main repertoire was also Irish music. It seems Wonderful World could have some Irish ancestry.

Alan Green was an American working for Bayerish radio back then. Somehow he heard I knew the chords for Wonderful World. (News travels fast in Regensburg.) I'd written the chords down from Peter's book. That practically made me an expert. Alan wanted to learn it on his keyboard. So I wrote out the chords for him at the bar in the Harp. He got back to me the next day and launched into an attack about how the chords were all wrong and how they weren't even the right key. He was very upset and vowed to return the following week and submit to me the correct chords. Well I was all a-tremble as you can imagine.
So the next week he handed me a piece of paper. "These are the proper chords" he said.
I thanked him and compared them to my set of chords. Apart from the handwriting, they were identical. I scratched my chin and said, "These are the exact same chords."
"Listen James", he said. "I don't feel comfortable talking to you."
"Well I'll get you a cushion", I offered……

Well that's what I get for trying to be helpful.
…………………………………

I think Peter's father had given him a book of miscellaneous busking hits. It had contained Wonderful World and the Wabash Cannonball. It also had the Carpenters song, "On Top of the World"; a sugary happy smiley hit from the seventies.
I recall Peter had started learning this song around the time we set off on a wee busking tour up around Heidelberg and Frankfurt one summer. At least I think that's where we were headed. These dates and towns and places have all blended into one very confused collage. I remember we set off on countless little tours that meandered from here to there and back again. Once upon a time we set off for Norway but Peter ended up in Eastern Europe. Another time we set off for France but keeled over in an alcoholic stupor near Offenberg thanks to 3 jumbo sized bottles of plonk that we'd carted 5 miles up a vine yard hill. I recall the view was quite spectacular then it grew hazy then it went black.

Whichever tour it was, somehow we ended up in the tiny town of Lohr; a little picturesque fairy tale place with a large population of Italians.

The way I remember it, we arrived on foot. The local train had dropped us off about a mile outside of town. The walk into Lohr was quite pleasant. The road was fairly deserted though the heat was intense. We stopped to buy some take away beers at a roadside kiosk. Then we back tracked to a shady picnic bench we'd passed earlier. Being in no real hurry, we soon had the guitars out. Peter started picking away at The Carpenter's song, On Top of the World. Shortly we were both working out the chords and laughing about this song's chances as a money maker on the street. We must have looked a sight: 2 unshaven hairy bums dressed in dusty rags, swigging Weizen and singing, "I'm on top of the world looking down on creation."
Not to mention our strange accents. Peter's lilting Irish mixed with my guttural West of Scotland dialect. "Am oan tap o the wurruld lookin doon oan crea-aishin."
Scary stuff.

I remember that day was a Saturday because the shops were all closed by 2pm. We had busked right outside an Aldi supermarket. Aldi supermarkets are dirt cheap. They sell stuff still in their packing boxes. Labels are plain. The Beer brands are obscure. Just before it closed for the weekend, I entered and bought a 6 pack of beer.
Peter was still busking when I came out. There was a little street urchin standing in front of him. He looked up at Peter and Said, "Me, Italiano." To which Peter asked, "Can you sing, O Solo Mio?" The kid launched straight into it. "Oooo Sooolooo Miooo". He had all the actions too. I think he wanted money.

We left him there and found a quiet park to sit and enjoy a leisurely count of the day's takings. Lohr had been very kind. I took a long swig of beer then spat it out. "What the…" It tasted like vinegar. I studied the label. "Berliner Weisse Bier".
That sounded right. Weizen beer from Berlin. I figured it would grow on me. I'd never yet found a beer I couldn’t drink. But this day was the first. Peter's taste buds agreed. A few more goose pimple sips later and the whole 6 pack was in the garbage can being swarmed by wasps.

The yucky beer was a small setback. We had planned to relax there for the rest of the afternoon. The park was deserted. We played in the sandpit for a while then we decided to have a race. Twice around the park. Off we went. Peter set a good pace and I kept just behind his shoulder. The first lap was full of giggles and smart comments and sniggers but by the second lap, we were grim faced and focused. Peter stayed in the lead till the last 20 metres when I over-took him and won. I apologized and he called me a bastard. I should have mentioned that I used to run the 800 metres. Peter had done a couple of marathons in his time and had been understandably confident. If our race had been a marathon, he'd have won. I doubt I could have even ran another lap.

So we went into town and had a real beer on a terrace. I posted some money back to Regensburg so I wouldn't be tempted to blow it all.
As early evening settled in we headed back towards the train station. German train stations often seem to be on the edge of town. We checked the schedule to see if any trains were going anywhere. Nothing. We crossed the deserted street and sat on a bench for a think.
There was a freight train sitting a little way out of the station down the tracks. One of the box cars was open. I strolled innocently over and peered casually inside. The whole car was filled with old clothes. It was like striking gold. This demanded closer inspection.

We decided to wait till it got darker before venturing inside for a serious rummage. There were a few houses that directly overlooked the yard. We didn't want to draw attention to our movements. We weren't sure how illegal we were about to be.

The long twilight finally faded. All was quiet. We stashed our gear behind the bench and approached the wagon. We jumped silently in. It was completely dark even though the far door was open too. Using my lighter for illumination, we moved quickly. There was no time to scrounge in detail. We couldn't be fussy. Peter got a pair of shoes and a sleeping bag and a pair of jeans. I got a pair of jeans. In less than two minutes, we were leaping triumphantly out the far door and skulking back to our bench.
On a nearby bike trail we studied our swag properly. Peter was pleased with his new sleeping bag but the jeans didn't fit. The shoes were an inch too big but would do. My jeans didn't fit either. We were both standing half naked on the path and looking very guilty. When we swapped my new jeans for his new jeans we discovered they fitted perfectly. My old jeans had been the same ones I'd dropped battery acid on in Kyle of Lochalsh. They had been visibly dissolving a little more every day. Now I'd scored a new pair, I was feeling great. Peter danced a jig.

Me and Peter are basically honest people. We don't mug or kill people. So taking the stuff from the train made us feel a little guilty. We'd noticed it had been marked for charity. We figured we were so poor that it was coming to us eventually anyway. But to ease our weeping hearts we decided the least we could do was to put our old jeans and the old sleeping bag in the train car as a small token of our appreciation. But when we returned to the freight train we found that the wagon's door was closed.

We swaggered into town that evening feeling like 2 sharp dressed bums. We plunked ourselves up on some bar stools and I have to say that when we left at closing time I could barely stand in a straight line. Our swagger had crumbled to a stagger. Must have been that sip of Berliner Weise Beer in the afternoon.
Down the road we zigzagged towards a bridge we'd discovered earlier on our rambles. We planned to sleep under it.
It was a long walk but at least the cool evening air sobered us up a bit. Soon we were singing the filthiest version of On top of the World, you can imagine.

But looking back now I think how simple our lifes were. We wanted nothing but freedom to do nothing. For years, our movements were dictated by whim and by mood and by innocent curiosity. I loved it.

I awoke the next morning and I was lying in my sleeping bag staring at the bright blue sky. It took me some minutes to realize I should have been looking at the underbelly of a bridge and not the open sky. Something wasn't right. I sat up suddenly and found I was in the middle of the highway. Apparently I'd rolled down a slope in the night. Fortunately it was a Sunday morning and the road was empty.
I thought myself lucky because just a few days earlier in Erlangen town in a similar stupor, we'd slept on a ledge under a bridge behind the main train station. The ledge was about 12 feet above the street and barely 3 feet wide. To even reach it, we'd balanced precariously on bicycles and back packs and had somehow jumped and scrambled and hauled each other up. If I'd fallen off that ledge that night I'd have killed myself for sure. It was vertical straight down onto solid concrete and a pile of bicycles.

…..And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

PS. It turned out that Berliner Weisse Beer is supposed to be served with a sweet flavouring as a kind of dessert drink. It's not supposed to be drank "straight".

Jan 30, 2010

 

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots.
Rockfish Grill.
Anacortes.
January 30 2010

Good gig…. I think.
Yup. All the right ingredients were there. Everyone played well, the sound was decent, we had a nice big stage, there was an appreciating audience, there was dancing, and we even got paid.
A three hour gig though is a long night and my voice sighed, cracked and died right on the last song. Good timing I guess.
But I think we all enjoyed ourselves. Amazing to have the whole band together for 2 gigs in a row.

We seemed to have ironed out a lot of the dodgy moments we'd discovered at the Green Frog on Thursday. Still, we took no chances as this gig was a new venue for us. So, One Step Ahead of the Blues, Christiana, and Smokestack Lightning were all dropped. Neither did we risk playing Tramper Ticket in its speculative untried new key of G. We did keep Cardboard Box, King Bee, Fontainebleau, and Dandelion.

The only real near disaster was the forgetting of the speaker cables. But luckily a whip round within the band produced enough spare wires to string it all together for the evening.

Considering that this was kind of an important gig, it was surprisingly non descript. I feel I should have more to say but nothing comes to mind.

………………………

Décor wise, The Rockfish kind of reminded me of the Archer Ale House in Fairhaven but maybe a little bigger. Mentally I couldn't help but be reminded of the Irish Harp in Regensburg. I wonder how many of the guys propping up the Rockfish bar counter were resident musicians. All in all though, I got positive vibes from the staff and clientele.
One of the servers who was dancing enthusiastically to Driving Down Chuckanut deserves the Quote of the Night Award. He came up to me afterwards and said with a beaming smile, "Me and Chuckanut are tight." I'm not sure what that meant but he was sincere; like he was prepared to die for Chuckanut Drive. Good man.

Special thanks to the kind folks who keep showing up in odd venues and give us a cheer. It's always great to see friendly faces.

Jan 28, 2010

 

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots
Green Frog Acoustic Tavern.
Thursday January 28 2010.

For the first time in about 5 months, the entire official Muddy Boots Band were on stage together. We certainly had a lot of catching up to do.
We had another gig coming up at the weekend so we really had to have a real full scale live practice. A rare event. Tree had never heard of half the songs on the list so we just dived straight in and zipped through as many as we could.
I enjoyed the gig a lot but we had a few hysterical bad moments. Not least of which was when I started singing the Board House song in the key of A# while everybody else was in A major. One line in to it, I realized my mistake. I grabbed my capo from the 3rd fret and clamped it on to the 2nd fret then slid my voice down a notch all in one foul swoop. How I managed to land in key for the 2nd line was a feat indeed. Somehow the song just carried on. I wonder how that must have looked and sounded to the audience. Probably like someone had slowed down an L.P. record for a second with their finger then let it go again. Well it made me laugh. That'll teach me to concentrate on music instead of waffling on about babies sleeping in drawers.
On top of that fine clanger, the battery on my guitar died on the first note of the gig. Luckily, Donald had a spare one but it took me 15 minutes to loosen all the strings and grope about blindly inside the sound hole like a mad gynecologist before I managed to get the new battery in and the guitar retuned.

Despite my determination to sabotage this gig, we did get some good practice in. Overall I think we were quite tight. The sound wasn't bad. We got to premiere Fontainebleau and Christiana plus we got to dust down a bunch of other stuff such as Broadway.

Right at the end we played Smokestack Lightning at a pace that would have bored a snail. It was so slow that it was unsingable. We persevered though and just took it for a walk (more like a plod) to see where it would go. Which in the end was nowhere at all. Sometimes you lay an egg and you just can't unfry it. I burst out laughing about 3 times during its long tedious lifespan and its long death speech. "…...uuu…ugh…Rosebud…ugh….thank you goodnight."

I guess if these comical errors had occurred at a higher paying venue, we would not have been laughing so hard. But as it was, we live to giggle another day.

…………………………………..

I guess I mentioned before that the green Frog reminded me of the Seoben in Munich.
Me and Peter used to go there quite often. It was like the last bastion of insanity in the Schwabing District.
It was a tiny place: dark, smoky and full of hidden corners. Heavy rock music blasted (and I mean blasted. BLASTED) from the walls. The walls were… well I don't know what they were. It was too dark to see them. The tables were ancient but solid. They may have once been work benches or dinner tables. They were scrawled with names and pictures. One huge table about the size of a snooker table just fitted into one of the alcoves. Around it there was just space for benches to squeeze about 20 people in against the wall. If someone wanted out to the toilet they simply spelunkered under the table or else everyone picked up their beer and the person leaving would simply walk across the table as casual as he was crossing a street.

I remember we were crammed in there one cacophonous evening when a woman with a weather beaten face across from me began building a miniature Stonehenge from cigarettes. She balanced them carefully on end in a little circle then laid some half cigarettes across the top. Her motions were sleepy and deliberate: almost like slow motion. Structurally, her creation looked quite sound. Steadier than her in fact. After a while she put a cigarette to her lips but didn't light it. She then put one up each nostril and one in each ear. The guy beside her smiled and pulled out a lighter. He ignited the one in the ear closest to him. He didn't appear to know her. She didn't laugh but she pulled it out and took a puff of it before climbing up on the table where in a teetering trance like state, she proceeded to do a strip tease. At this point the barman quickly appeared and jumped up on the table. He didn't burst into a John Travolta routine as you'd expect; instead he squeezed her back into her clothing before propping her back in her space. He then patted her head and returned to the bar while the dancer turned to the stranger with the lighter and suddenly kissed him so passionately that they fell under the table never to be seen again that evening.

I miss the Seoben. Hardly a trip went by to Munchen that we didn't pop in for a pint and bask in its unique atmosphere. It wasn't so much a dive; it was more of a gopher hole where a colony of lunatics sat blinking in the dim light with license to drink.
In my mind I still picture me and Peter, sitting up at the bar, tall beers in hand, big silly smiles on our faces. Pissed as farts.

I guess I said the Green Frog reminded me of the Schwabinger Seoben but actually …..actually they're nothing alike at all.

Jan 15, 2010

 

James Higgins and the Muddy Boots.
Stuart's Coffee Shop.

Actually it was just me and Donald doing this one.
I didn't bring any amplification though Donald had the bass plugged in at room temperature. Normally that's plenty loud but tonight I became aware of the enormous drone given off by the ice cream machine next to the stage. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner. Though I could sing over its hum, it rendered any talking with the audience as obsolete.

So we played through a bunch of stuff and got a few practice songs in too.
A night of low drama. I even got a free coffee.
Golly.

Jan 8, 2010

 

Washtub Bass with the 3Ds at Stuarts.

Just Donald, Jan, Dale and me having a quiet session of bluegrass stuff. Not much of a crowd but it was still fun. In fact I hardly noticed the lack of people.

A girl spoke to Donald about playing her wedding on the 4th of July. She liked what she'd heard. I'm glad we didn't know she was there evaluating us or we'd have gotten a bit nervous. She left happy but half an hour later her Mother came in with what seemed to be her husband and some bonified in-laws. She introduced herself then sat to listen. I figured they were going to be the ones to foot the bill at the wedding and she'd obviously want her moneys worth from the band.
Naturally we all got instantly really nervous. We'd been fine up till then: happily playing away and minding our own business. But now, the pressure was on.
A few notes into this ambush audition, Jan's bouron drum stick flicked right out of her hand as she was playing. It went twirling across the room like a boomerang. All relevant chords were momentarily suspended in mid air. Fingers fumbled, washtubs clanged and great rivers ran backwards.

It was comical. Jan started laughing. We all started laughing.
Anyway, after some furtive onstage whispering and giggling, we decided to just play what the Bride-To-Be had heard and liked. The Mother and entourage left after about 15 minutes. They gave no clues as to what they thought of us except they were adamant that they wanted a fiddle involved.

I don't think there's been that much excitement at a 3D gig as long as I remember.
Then the waitress insisted I pay for my coffee. Things were getting down right controversial. Obviously she didn't realize that the wash tub bass was a very serious instrument.