Nov 18, 2011
Gig Journal 2011
How Not to Make it as a Musician
By James Higgins.
The gig that wasn't.
Aug 27, 2011
So after about 14 years living and gigging in the States, this was where it all ended.
North Star Road near Ferndale. For sure this was not the best gig I ever played but it was a great venue with great people and a happy hippy atmosphere.
This was the 3rd time I'd played there. It really is a cozy little festival.
Ben and Kim own the property which is a couple of quiet acres a few miles outside Ferndale. Every year they organize this Brookstock Festival. Lot's of bands play over the 3 days. Savage Henry are regulars. A band called something like the Black Beast Something also played. They were quite good actually. Dark rock with rumbling bass lines.
We were advertised as the Muddy Boots but of all members who have previously played with the band, the only person available was Donald. We hadn't gigged together since I don't know when. We showed up an hour before the gig and we went through a list of 3 chord tricks. Then we looked around for a drummer to join us for a jam. We found a guy called Cruise. He'd been playing with the band just before us. So with zero rehearsal he just dived straight in. We started off with Farmer John even though we'd only played it for the first time an hour earlier while we were practicing.
I can safely say this set was not our finest hour but the people were there to enjoy themselves and fortunately were not there as art critics.
Ultimately this was a disappointing gig for me. I'd been looking forward to it for months. But in the end we were just 3 strangers jamming.
Thanks to Donald for stepping up. It is amazing how often The Muddy Boots boil down to us two. I guess it was me and him who first put this band project together before linking up with the rest of the original Boots.
Well there we were at the bitter end. Most of our set wasn't that bad really: it was just threadbare. No lead instrument apart from my harmonica and cazumpet. We couldn't do any real finishes or intros. It's not easy ad- libbing with no lead instruments.
Not exactly an exit in a blaze of glory but it was a fun evening.
Thank you and Goodnight America.
Three weeks later I'm in Iceland with Hil and Ronan.
We have a 24 hour stop-over on our flight to Munich.
I must say that visiting Iceland fulfilled a lifelong ambition for me. I can remember discussing it with my cousin Michael when we were about 17. I measured the distance from Scotland to Iceland on an old school map and estimated it to be about 800 miles.
We never went but now some 30 years later there I was on Iceland with Hil and Ronan.
Sam's friend Rory had given us some great tips to help us make the most of our short time there. (Thanks Rory.)
For sure it was an odd feeling to be standing on that mythical land of Vikings, lava and geysers on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Indeed Iceland for me had always been enveloped in a surreal haze of half truths. Did it actually exist? Or did it disappear with the Vikings? But we landed around 6:30 AM and there it was.
Here are a few quick facts I learned on the plane.
It seems just about everyone can speak English.
The Prime Minister is in the phone book.
Thirty percent of Icelanders have university degrees.
Though Iceland seems just off the coast of North America, it is unquestionably European. It could easily pass as an extension of Scotland but a little bleaker and with better English. It's a European back door with a long hallway to the living room.
The car rental guy was very friendly and let us store our extra baggage overnight in the office. He said, "Iceland is not about stress." He advised us to slow down and take it easy.
We had been traveling already for a long time and were fairly bolloxed but we were determined not to miss the opportunity to explore this strange new land.
Hil hadn't drove a stick shift in a while so Iceland's deserted roads were a perfect place to get back into the rhythm. Iceland's streets also had lots of empty roundabouts to practice on without undue pressure. America has very few roundabouts: just enough to make a driving test tricky.
Black ash and lava formations are everywhere and the hills seem more like heaps. Solitude and silence prevailed. There was no background rumbling of industry or honking of continuous traffic
What few cars we saw, drove on the right. Small compact cars. In fact everything seems smaller. Tiny houses, tiny towns. Tiny supermarkets.
We drove south from Kevlavik and did Rory's loop tour in reverse.
We were getting out of the car every 5 minutes to photograph something or another. Every time we stopped, the weather was different. Most certainly the climate was far milder than I'd ever have imagined. Perhaps because of the Gulf Stream. Clouds rolled in and out from the sea. The sun shrunk in and out of mists. Winds yelled and whispered. It all added to the raw haunted atmosphere of Iceland. Quite melancholy and from an artistic perspective, a bit abstract.
It really wasn't hard to picture the Viking long boats coming ashore a thousand years ago. The land, despite its volatile nature, can't really have changed that much. Sure nowadays there are a few scattered settlements and some roads but basically it must have looked the same then as now. I wonder if there were any trees back then. Not many at the moment.
Poor Ronan slept through most of our first few hours. He'd had a long day but had taken everything in his stride: even losing a tooth at 33,000 feet.
Tooth Fairy was going to have to be imaginative.
One thing we couldn't find anywhere was an unlocked public toilet. This wouldn't normally be a problem but on such a barren treeless landscape it's hard not to stand (or squat) out. I guess if I was wandering in the Scottish Highlands, I would not be expecting to find a toilet either. I must still be harbouring some American residue. I guess we were now back in the real world.
Finally we found a gas station café that was open. We ordered some coffees and used their facilities.
The attendant was friendly enough. He gave us our coffees and left a carton of milk and a big bowl of sugar on the counter. He wandered off to chat with a customer. Definitely no stress there.
By then it was still only mid morning. While Ronan was conked out across the back seat of the car, me and Hil visited the Mid Atlantic Continental Divide. This was a wide crack about 30 meters wide and the same depth. We stood on a bridge and straddled the gap.
Later we checked out the Blue Lagoon hot springs. This is a very popular (and expensive) outdoor swimming place. We didn't go in but had a stroll around the pathways.
We also had a stroll on a beach and got caught in an icy squall further inland while overlooking a lake.
All in all we had a very pleasant morning. We then continued our circuitous route towards Reykjavik where we had booked a hotel. On the approach to the city, we saw the first real Icelandic trees. So far the landscape had been devoid of any flora taller than a rare stunted bush. The Reykjavik trees were pines, perhaps 25 or 30 feet tall. Not giants but re-assuring to see.
The Cabin Hotel wasn't a cabin but was nice enough and everyone was helpful. i don't think it was particularly central. We went for a walkabout and found a pizzeria.
In the morning (4 AM), after a great breakfast (continental) we returned the rental car near the airport. The agency runs a service to the airport which is only a 1 minute drive.
We cleared European Customs there then flew into Copenhagen and on to Munich. There was no security there. I came out the exit door and immediately smelled Camel cigarettes. Then I collapsed laughing.
I saw what looked like a large specimen holding tank. A room sized aquarium. Inside was a yellow haze of smoke like a special biosphere to keep aliens alive. Through the glass I could make out a swirl of faces and limbs. There were life forms in there. Specimens! Humanoids. I realized this was the smokers' room. No need to light up. Just go in there and breathe.
I guess it was the unexpectedness of this encounter that had made me laugh. A real "choke on yer pint" laugh.
I'm still laughing.
But as an ex-smoker myself, I wonder if I would once have strode in and not thought twice about it?
So I guess suddenly we were in Munich.
Our rented car had a GPS. It took us straight to Eddie and Elizabeth's house in Aubing.
Me and Ed went for a stroll. It made me laugh to hear such a casual barrage of fine swear words from Eddie. I was feeling right at home.
It was great to see Ed and Elizabeth again. We'd known each other from Regensburg in the 1990s. I think we'd all met or worked at the Goldene Ente beer garden. Later Ed and Elizabeth had owned The Leprechaun Irish Pub in Regensburg before moving to the States for a few years. Now, like us, they'd returned to Germany.
Amazing now to see our kids playing together. Also amazing for us to just slip back into that old Regensburg familiarity so easily.
They kindly put us up for a few days while we dealt with some paperwork.
So right now me and Ronan are in Burghausen while Hil has a month of studying in Munich.
Ronan had his first day at school yesterday. What a brave wee guy. He was fighting the tears but when I picked him up he was smiling. It hadn't been so bad as he'd dreaded. Not great but not bad. Nothing an ice cream wouldn't fix.
Burghausen is a town of 2 halves.
The New Town (Neu-stadt) and the Old Town (Alt- Stadt) where the ice cream lives. We live in the new part.
Burghausen has the longest castle in Germany. Our apartment building is still a building site. I suspect the castle might be finished before our home.
The Salzach River runs past the old town. The far shore is Austria. There is a bridge that leads to a town called Ach and to a cell phone problem. It seems when I get too close to Austria, my new cell phone sometimes switches to an Austrian system that then charges me expensive international rates.
And now here we are. 10,000 kms from Seattle. What's next?
Brookstock seems a long time ago.
Anyway, years back, me and Peter were having a late night beer in the Alte Malzerei. We were sitting at the bar and were well past our walk a straight line date.
The place was almost empty but a guy about our age came up and ordered a beer. While Zoltan the Hungarian chef poured it for him, the guy overheard us talking.
I guess out thick Glasgow and Dublin accents confused him. He asked us where we were from. On a drunken impulse I told him we were from Iceland.
He seemed impressed. He had never met anyone from Iceland. So we told him all about it. I explained that Peter's English wasn't so good so I translated everything into phony Icelandic for him. Peter would nod at my gibberish and would mumble some gibberish of his own back at me which I would translate into German for the poor guy.
This cracked us both up. When the man asked what was so funny I would say, "He is a very funny guy."
The man stood listening. Trying to crack the code.
"What are you doing in Regensburg" he asked.
"Hoogy doogie hurdy Regenzbog" I'd say to Peter.
Peter would nod and say. Yuckin shtoopop floppin toop."
We were like the Flower Pot Men.
I'd then nod and we'd both say, "Yaka yaka", as if we were agreeing on some point.
"We're with the band."
I had envisioned that the man would depart after Zoltan delivered his beer. But he didn't. He just stood there. He was there for half an hour. We began to wish he'd go away. We hadn't intended to drag out the joke. I don't know if he had sussed us out completely and was enjoying a personal inner laugh of his own or if he thought we really were Icelandic. Either way, we just kept on talking absolute drivel till finally he left. In fact I think he backed away. And who wouldn't: even if we really had been Icelandic?
Funny thing is that if we'd just stuck to our original accents he'd probably have believed us for sure.
Well that'll teach us to try mess with someone's head. I can picture that guy probably left and told his pals about the 2 twits he'd met at the pub, then they probably had a fine laugh and spoke some Icelandic of their own.
Aug 6, 2011
Whatcom Humane Society Benefit
Jul 30, 2011
The Market BBQ
Another toaster of a day.
This gig really was an odd set-up compared to the other Market bbq on the Fairhaven Parkway.
A bit "Under-thought-out" by the powers that be.
At the original Fairhaven Market bbq, there is a little outdoor café corner that is screened off from the parking. Food is cooked and served right there. The band sets up and plays there too. Customers sit at picnic tables. It's all very contained and quite cozy.
But at the new Lake way Market we were expected to play in the car park in the blazing sun for 3 sweltering hours.
The store manager didn't really know where to put us. We campaigned for a canopy to ward off the sun. The staff set one up though I suspect they thought we were just some band of prima-donnas acting high strung and petty.
I recall we once played out in Glacier one Summer. We played outdoors in the direct sun. By the time we finished the gig, my head looked like a tomato. I was cooked and it didn't feel good at all.
I didn't need refried at the Market bbq.
So we set up near The Markets bbq area. The trouble was that they'd done all the cooking earlier and brought the food inside to display it at their deli counter. They sold it there and packaged it up. Most customers bought their food as take-away and probably departed without even noticing the band or making any connection between live music and their purchase. Even the few picnic chairs were well hidden. The bbq wasn't even on. In fact there wasn't even a cook manning the station.
Basically we were left to our own devices which just leads to farting about, big gaps between songs and frequent glances at wrist watches. It was all quite comical.
As a band, (me, Howie, Dave and Aaron) I guess we played well enough but we really were just going through the motions in a parking lot. The food was good right enough.
Thinking about the gig later, I realized that there really are no immediate neighbours near the super market. I'd have set up the bbq and sales counter side by side outside. I'd have started the live music around 7:30 or 8 PM when the traffic had thinned out. I'd have cleared away some of the outdoor displays and put out more seating. I'd have advertised the gig as a weekly Summer event. I'd make The Market a destination. Shop and Bop.
……But that's just me.
Song wise we didn't play anything too dark or adventurous. But we did get around to adding on a Howie Fiddle tune to the Annecy song. It had some welcome fresh energy.
There's not much creative energy in a supermarket parking lot though there's more goes on than meets the eye. There's potential drama in every slam of a car door and every glance in a shop window.
The band plays on; apparently oblivious but their eyes are furtive. Meanwhile at the Liquor Store, every scrutinized I.D. could be false. Could be a terrorist or an illegal alien
Every brown paper bag could be a quiet night at home with a loved one or a hellish recurring nightmare of domestic violence, sirens and blackouts. Or perhaps it contains some mellowing companionship by a lonely campfire.
At the checkout, shoppers are counting their change. The tension in the manicurist's salon is nail biting.
And what about that Crazy Mike guy at the video store? Why, he could come storming out that door like a Braveheart extra and go on a chansaw massacre without a moments notice.
Then there's that suspicious looking band hanging out by the wood pile…..
That's how exiting it was.
Jul 9, 2011
The Courtyard is a high security facility for offenders over 80.
That's not true but there were actually a lot of security measures in place. Every door had a key or an electronic password.
The Courtyard is an old folk's home. "Safety Measures" is probably a better term than security measures. They are in place to prevent guests from wandering too far off course and injuring themselves. Still, we definitely had a captive audience.
On this particular day The Courtyard was hosting a family day BBQ.
We were the band.
We (Me, Kat and Aaron) set up to play in a potted plant alcove (no cruel jokes please) in a corridor that led from the dining room to another wing of the home.
This was a completely unplugged gig. Aaron had his double bass, Kat had her violin. I had the new Tailor guitar.
At first the alcove was empty but about 20 minutes into our gig a few people stopped by and sat for a listen and a chat. It was all very pleasant.
Then word got out around the building, "They're dancing in the hallway". It was like a call to arms. They arrived by crutch and by wheelchair. Leaning on shoulders and walking sticks; their faces wrought in grim determination.
Extra seating were brought in, cookies were passed around. Someone broke out the O'Doul's. And yes there really was dancing. Those Golden Oldies sure know how to shake it.
At the beginning I was singing very quietly and tentatively. I didn't want to cause any heart attacks or start a slow-mo stampede for the exits. By the end I got the feeling they preferred our livelier stuff.
We played from noon till 1:30 PM. I think the people enjoyed the distraction.
A pleasant afternoon.
A similar predicament arose long ago when me and PJ were on a busking walkabout. We arrived in the German spa town of Bad Orb. This little town catered exclusively to the older generations.
On the roadside as we approached were traffic signs we'd never seen before. One had a picture of a radio with a red X slashed across it. No radios, I presumed. A little further on we passed another sign. This one depicted a bunch of bananas with a red X. No bananas.
Down-town Bad Orb was all ashuffle and abustle with a wheelchair traffic jam but there was an overall aura of silence. I guess old people are comfy in silence. When you get a whole town of them together, the silence is intense.
We found ourselves talking in whispers.
We'd come to busk. We also busked at a high volume. There is a busker saying, "If you can't be good, be loud."
It looked like we'd just have to be good. There's a first time for everything.
In the end I couldn't bring myself to play. I did not want to be the person responsible for abruptly shattering the peace. I truly feared I'd set off a contagion of seizures and strokes.
PJ did a short set in hushed tones and the going was fair to rough but no one died.
I can't remember where we spent the night. I recall that the park was far too busy to sleep in though we may have crept in after dark. There was a hollow bush near the train station but it was already taken.
The next morning was sunny and warm. We found ourselves hitch-hiking on a country road outside a tiny village. The road was deserted. Forest was all around.
We were standing there enjoying the morning sun when a moped came by. Astride it was a beer bellied man in a wife beater string vest. He buzzed past us then did a U-turn and came back. He stopped and conversation ensued. The usual pleasantries: "Wo her commen sie? Was machen sie heir?" Sind sie Deutche?" Sind sie verloren?"
After this short exchange he reached into his trouser pocket and gave us 5 Deutch Marks. Then he departed.
The 5 Marks was very generous of him but it did puzzle us. We hadn't solicited him for it. Did we just look like we needed it? I think we were wearing the new clothes we'd gotten from the Lohr train carriage adventure. So we weren't quite at our worst.
A few minutes later as the buzz of his moped faded into the sound of birds chirping, we noticed a pair of false teeth lying on the ground. It was too early in the morning to be looking at dentures but we were too squeamish to move them. We were experiencing irrational denture phobia. Like an elephant herd recoiling from a mouse.
So we got a small twig and managed to shoo them gingerly off to one side and into the bushes.
At this point in the tale we had not yet made the connection between the teeth and the moped man. We'd hitch-hiked on a million roadsides. They are littered with all kinds of human trash. For all we knew, those teeth could have been there for years. Perhaps they were all that remained of the last hitcher.
A few minutes later the moped goes past again and disappears round the corner. The engine noise recedes and fades out. Then we hear it begin to grow louder again. It comes round the corner. The guy is driving slowly. His eyes scouring the road. He draws closer and closer. Finally he is stopped right in front of us. We realize he looks exactly like someone who has recently lost a set of false teeth.
He appears to have retraced his morning trail like a toothless bloodhound. Now his nose has brought his beady eyes to rest upon us. There's no denying it. The trail ends here.
He seems a little shy about telling us he's looking for his teeth. Which is unfortunate because now that we'd just poked and prodded his teeth with a stick and wrestled them into the undergrowth, we were also too embarrassed to tell this poor man that, yes we had seen his teeth and in fact we know them quite well.
No that would just take to much awkward interpretation. We could've explained that his teeth fell out his pocket when he handed us the 5 marks. That's easily. But how had they come to be hiding now in the bushes? How could we explain that?
So we denied everything.
"Teeth? What teeth? No teeth here?"
The man departed. Perplexed. Toothless.
Well we instantly felt kinda bad for the guy. What to do? Isn't it bizarre how something so simple can get so convoluted?
We figured he'd probably keep searching till he found them. So we decided to retrieve the teeth from the bushes and maneuver them onto a fence post where they would be plainly visible if the man returned. Hopefully we'd be long gone by then. He'd find his teeth. No explanations would be necessary. Everybody would be happy.
It wasn't easy to negotiate those teeth onto the fence post without touching them. We used a couple of twigs like rustic chopsticks to pick them up. One chopstick each. We were pathetically dainty and careful as if we feared they'd bite us. They kept falling off and landing in the roadside gravel. By the time we got them balanced on the summit of the post, they were a gritty mess.
I guess it was just taboo to touch someone's false teeth. No one likes to eat food that's been in someone else's mouth. I guess this was the same sort of nausea.
Anyway with our good deed done, all we needed was a lift away from the crime scene. An hour passed. The road was not heavily trafficked. We were far off the beaten track. All we could do was stand there: me, PJ and the fence post with the teeth. What had once been an anonymous stave in the ground now had a mouth piece which gave it instant personality. For a while it felt like there were three of us chattering away.
Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of a moped. The tooth fairy was back.
Once again the moped stopped beside us. The driver was now looking a little more distraught. Lunch time was approaching and teeth were not provided.
We tried to look innocent but we were aware that his roving eye would shortly settle on his false teeth atop the post. We were lined up side by side. He looked at me. I shook my head. "No I've seen no teeth."
He looks at P.J. who says cryptically, "sometimes".
Then the man looks to the fence post. He sees the filthy teeth. He grabs them. Stares at them. Cogs are turning in his head. How can teeth fall from a pocket and land upward on a fence post? He glowers suspiciously then drives off.
"Jeez", says PJ. "I thought he was going to ask for his 5 Marks back."
Jul 8, 2011
Encouraging to see a lot of friendly faces in the garden today. Craig and his kids were there. Also Alex, Sagit, Eleanor. Hil and Ronan, Tree and his wife even showed up. Mr. Flanders also made a cameo appearance. Dave's kids were also there. So there was an amicable, sociable buzz in the air.
The sun popped in and out sporadically, folks hula hooped. Fish were fried, beer was consumed. The band played.
We've had the same line-up for the last 3 gigs now. Me, Dave, Kat and Aaron.
We split the gig into two 45 minute sets. The first set probably flowed a little better than the second but both were a lot of fun. Our song endings were a bit hap-hazard but at least we nailed the endings on Annecy and The Bouncy House.
We also managed to toss in some more unusual songs like Can't Keep me, Fontainebleau, 20 Tonnes and Painted Pony.
Unexpected hit of the day…..Ain't No Bugs on Me. The real version: not our old bluesy rendition. The kids (and adults) were quite entertaining with their Hula Hooping antics.
So all in all this was a good gig even though we ran out of time before we got to play our whole set list. No Cardboard Box or Whisky in the Jar "O". Or Step It Out Mary
Anyway, not a bad farewell gig to bow me out of the boundary Bay scene if indeed our (me, Hil and Ronan's) move to Europe continues to take more solid form.
That would mean Painted Pony was the last song we played there.
It's been a mad run with the Boots. Was it 3 years? We easily played well over a hundred gigs in one format or another.
An interesting experience. On the whole it was a blast. For better or worse, I feel I learned a lot.
So, good job everybody.
Still we're not quite dead yet and who knows, I may still be in town a long time. Even if we leave, it will only be for a couple of years.
We'll probably be back before anyone notices we've been gone.
Jun 25, 2011
Bellingham flea market
Tailor Guitar review.
It's been a while since I played there. The market has always had a friendly atmosphere. Now that it's relocated to Chestnut Ave (Street?) it has brought the same ambiance along.
The new premises are at the same place they had the Allied Arts over Christmas.
Remember that big stage?
Anyway it was a non descript but pleasant little afternoon gig. The most notable event was the unveiling of my new Tailor guitar. It worked well under the circumstances. I didn't give it much of a sound check. I basically plugged it in and started playing. I can't say it sounded great or bad but I was pleased with its overall performance. There was no feedback, no crackling, and no twanging or rattling. It stayed in tune. The action was very comfortable.
All guitars have their quirks. I haven't found the Tailor's eccentricities yet. I have noticed the high B and E are a bit bright but I've often found that's a problem with various guitars. That's why I generally only change those strings when they break. I like them dull.
This Tailor guitar doesn't have a graphic equalizer as versatile as the Takamine. It only has a volume knob and 2 other unlabeled circular knobs. The only way to figure out what they do is by trial and error.
A huge plus is that the Tailor's battery is easily changeable. The Takamine's battery was originally inside the body. It was a nightmare to change till I got it repositioned to near the cable input with easy external access. The Tailor battery is thankfully already accessible from outside. This means I don't require a PHD in gynecology in order to replace a flat battery.
I bought my Takamine in New Haven Connecticut in 1989. It has served me well for gigs though I rarely played it for personal fun. Its action was always a little high. I lowered it when I bought it but should have lowered it a tiny bit more. Instead I decided to quit while I was winning, before I messed it up completely.
In short; what I liked best about the Takamine was its pick-up. What I disliked was the inside battery.
I've had that guitar for 22 years of gigging during which time it's taken a lot of knocks. This latest unpredictable breakdown is a fizzle too far.The Takamine is talking to itself. That's a bad sign. The time has come for the Takamine to go into well earned retirement.
That guitar has done me proud over the years but her quirks have become flaws.
That means the Takamine's last gig was at the Ferndale Highland Games. Not a bad place to bow out.
We didn't exactly go out with a bang; just a crackle. But it's sure been a buzz.
Jun 5, 2011
Ferndale Highland Games
So here we were again back in Hovander Park.
T'was a scorcher of a June day at the Ferndale highland Games.
This time, we finally played in the actual beer garden. On Friday we were closing in: lapping the shore as it were. But on Sunday, the powers that be, finally agreed to move the music into the fenced off beer garden.
A squad of caber tossers shouldered the stage ceremoniously across the field and hoisted it over the fence, putting it down within reach of the sacred beer tent.
And no, we weren't on the stage during the trip but that would have been quite an entrance.
Me, Dave, Kat and Aaron were the band. Same line-up as Friday.
I'd say this was quite an entertaining wee gig. Being daylight meant that we could actually see what we were doing without the glaring interrogation spotlight frying our eye balls like on Friday.
This was the shutting down of the Highland games event.
For readers just joining us….. We'd also played on Friday when they'd had the traditional keg blessing. Kirkin the Firkin it was referred to or something like that.
Now we were last out the door on the Sunday. Typical Scotsman and crew, waiting for the last of the slops.
Anyway we fairly whizzed through the gig, keeping it up tempo but not in your face.
No big gaps between songs and no extended jams. Quite refreshing to be honest.
But my guitar still crackles.
Met a lot of interesting folks from all over. Many folks came up to say, good job. Apparently we'd been broadcast over the whole park. I'd thought we'd only been playing to the beer crowd.
There were people there from all over the world. I even met a Scottish guy from Elgin. A guy from Newfoundland and… many more.
Ronan was great. He really was patient. State law says children aren't allowed in the beer garden. If the garden had served food too, he may have been granted entry. In the end it wasn't a big deal. He played football and we hung out with him before and after the gig. For his reward, he did insist on being treated to a "Happy Meal" at a well known fast food restaurant whose name fitted well with the clan theme. One with a play room.
Jun 3, 2011
Ferndale Highland Games
Our stage was set up just outside the beer garden. Naturally we'd have preferred to have been on the inside but this was a vast improvement on last year when we were set adrift on our podium raft in the middle of an empty field. The beer garden had been but a utopian speck on the horizon.
That's where the party seemed to be happening while we were like jealous uninvited neighbours down the street with binoculars.
But this time we were almost part of it. We could hear the clink of glasses close enough to make us salivate like Pavlovian dogs.
We went on stage after the Scottish Idol talent contest. Yes Scottish Idol. There were plenty of enthusiastic entrants, but not much talent (Says he, Mr. Talent himself). Actually to be honest there were some nice moments. A little boy beat upon a drum and there was a teenage girl with a beautiful voice who sang a haunting battle song. Unfortunately for us there were endless late entries. Every time the show seemed over we were delayed again and again. Finally 2 hours after arriving, we took to the wee stage just as the mosquitoes and the dusk was settling in.
Interesting to note that the winner was paid the same money for singing one song that we got for the whole evening! Hell, we should have been a late entry too. (I doubt we'd have won right enough.)
But not to gripe. We had quite an agreeable gig. Sound check wasn't the best but not too bad. "Live-with able."
So this band line-up comprised of me on guitar and cazumpet, Dave on the drums, Aaron on the bass and hey diddle diddle, Kat on the fiddle.
Seeing as it was the Highland Games, we tried to throw in as many Celtic songs as we could muster. Step it Out Mary. Donald Where's Yer Troozers. Muirshin Durkin. Whisky in the Jar "O". Mari's Wedding. And a few others that I don't recall.
We went from song to song with very little noticeable awkwardly long gaps in between.
One Bummer though is that my guitar is crackling again. Very frustrating.
By the time we finished up, it was solid darkness. The only light available was a giant Bat Signal spotlight that shone right in our eyes from 15 feet away and blinded us completely.
Dave tried to protect his eyes by hiding in my shadow. Occasionally I'd hear him yelp in pain and I'd know that he'd accidentally peeked out into the atomic glare.
Still as I said, it was an enjoyable gig. One to remember. One forever burnt into my retina.
This was Kat's first gig with the Boots and she slotted in quietly and professionally. (Thanks Kat.)
Dave was an inspiration as ever. Aaron was solid. I'm hearing some tidy little bass runs emerging. Not that my material requires much daring do but I do appreciate all creative input.
Anyway not much to report. No news is good news.
The Muddy Boots continue to tick over but in no fixed format.
May 29, 2011
Boundary Bay Brewery
Ski to Sea Day
T'was a momentous day today. After being here in Bellingham since 1998(?), Hil competed in her first Ski to Sea. I guess now she can really say she's "done" Bellingham.
We are very proud of her. She did the cycling part. I believe it was a distance a little over 40 miles. Her time was about 2 hours 12 minutes which she was very pleased with.
I would have liked to enter too but they didn't have a motorbike section.
Afterwards we all headed to Boundary Bay where I had a gig with the Muddy Boots. The band comprised of me, Dave, Aaron and Howie.
When we got there, a band was already playing. It took me a minute to recognize Will who I'd jammed with around Christmas. It hadn't worked out but he seemed to have assembled a band for the day. When I spoke to him, I'm not sure he could place my face. He shook my hand enthusiastically and asked if I was still sailing. Not sure what that was about. Maybe a code word.
Then I recognized Phil in the corner. He'd been playing slide guitar. I asked him if he wanted to sit in with the Boots for old time's sake. So then we were five.
The gig itself went fairly smoothly. It was a sunny day and we were in the beer garden. It wasn't the busiest but it made for a laid back atmosphere.
Lucky Mike set us up with a fine sound check (thanks Mike) and for a few songs I used my Fishman pickup on my Vantage guitar for its maiden voyage. It worked well enough. Not spectacular but no feedback.
Song wise, there were no real disasters. Whisky in the Jar "O" almost worked but our arrangement sort of fell apart. We were just about holding it together when a freak gust of wind blew across stage and made off with all my music notes. I had to interrupt the song to chase them down. Some things you can't ignore. Fortunately, Lucky Mike appeared and chased them down like a butterfly hunter. Then he weighed them back down with a D.I. box. It was lucky he was there. I guess that's why they call him Lucky Mike.
I'm sure they wouldn't have flown so far if it had been the tips jar that had blown over.
We also played Painted Pony which felt a bit rough but everyone seemed to enjoy it.
The rest of the material was the usual stuff.
I think we all enjoyed the gig. It was good of Phil to sit in. I think Howie had fun. Dave and Aaron were solid. Hiccups were few. That's a good thing.
Right now, I'm not sure how much longer we will stay in the States. I get the feeling that this town, nice as it is, might be all played out. I'm getting that dead end feeling again. Bellingham's music scene has been a pleasant little merry-go-round but Europe is calling again.
I wouldn't say that Europe treats it's musicians any better than the States, it's just that music is more engrained into the various cultures.
I sense that the (Any) local music scene is a cottage industry stuck in a rut of every man for himself. Musical expression is pushed aside by more immediate individual needs like paying rents and bills. Thus musicians take any crumb of a gig that comes along in order to make ends meet. They (We) become the dumpster divers of the art world. Solidarity crumbles. Bands become loose wheeled co-ops instead of well oiled machines. In the end everybody is afloat but no one's swimming anywhere. It's not necessarilly the musicians' faults, it's the sad economics of a business which pays worse than a dishwasher.
Whatcom County surely this must be one of the most breath taking places on earth. I continually remind myself that people come here on holiday from all over the world just to see it. To many, it's the trip of a lifetime. For me, It has been an incredible experience that I got to live in every day.
I recall in January 1999 we were waiting for the ferry up on Vancouver Island. I think it may have been Schwarz Bay. The weather was mild and we were looking through the San Juan Islands towards Mount Baker in the East. We were en route to Bellingham to start this new chapter in our life. Me, Hil and Huck the dog.
Schwarz Bay was silent except for the gentle lapping of waves on the shore. We stared East at that big white mountain that seemed to draw my eye. I swear it was the most wondrous place on earth. (That's a big compliment coming from a Scotsman.) I felt we were staring at a live postcard. We gazed in awe and I turned to Hil and said. "This… is embarrassing". It was too beautiful. And now we were going to go inhabit that postcard. We didn't deserve this. How would we explain it to our friends without being apologetic?
Of course we got to Bellingham and it rained for the next 5 months. When I remarked on this to a local, he said, we were lucky we hadn't arrived in October cause it had rained those 3 months too.
There's sure been a lot of up and downs since that January day, but sharing this adventure with Hil, Ronan and Huck has been the happiest of privileges.
I still can't help missing Europe. Not that it's particularly better; it's just where I'm from. We may go back for a year and then return. We may not even go. If we do leave, I doubt our absence will be noticed. I will miss the wildlife.
Ronan was born here. This is his town. I only really came to the U.S. for a look around. I have a green card but I'm not an immigrant.
If the USA was a part of Europe, I'd probably be quite content here. But it's not. I can't just nip across a border and visit a whole new world and be back a few days or months later. That is truly what I miss about Europe; that get up and saunter mentality that I've put aside for so long. I wandered around the back roads of that continent for years. Eventually I didn't even really need a map any more.
If we are in Europe still when Ronan turns 21, I wonder if he'll wish to return home to Bellingham. Home to Padden Creek. Just like a Salmon.
Hil has done the Ski to Sea and that feat reminds me of when we did the vendange near Beaune. Though I'd criss crossed The Continent for years, the vendange was something special that was missing from my European experience though I didn't know it till we did it.
Hil has done the Ski to Sea. She has gone officially native. We are clear for take-off.
Mar 17, 2011
Oh Solo Mio
This gig wasn't confirmed until the last minute. The Haggis Band had cancelled and I got this 1 hour afternoon slot.
I was to start at 1 o clock so I got there 20 minutes early but the previous act hadn't even shown up yet. I hung around outside. Fortunately it was a beautiful day so me and Hil strolled around downtown which was quite pleasant but nevertheless I don't enjoy loitering around before gigs. It makes me antsy.
The Penk Dancers are 3 pretty young girls who do a high stepping, high energy dance routine set to traditional Irish techno music which brings the house down every year. They bounce effortlessly around the room like antelopes. I always have this primitive urge to lasso them. They are very good at what they do and get the crowd all fired up. Heaven help any unfortunate busker who has to follow that act.
Alas, I was that unfortunate busker. I seem cursed to die regularly in their footsteps. Last year on Paddy's Day I was on after them. At the Burns Supper last month, it happened again. Now here I was, once more eating their dust.
I was at least prepared for it this time. I resigned myself to being background noise accompanying corned beef, cabbage and clinking cutlery.
After The Penk Girls had kicked up their storm and jigged out the door, the bar felt like a twister had just passed through.
In the calm of their exit, I and Lucky Mike hauled in a stage and the PA system from next door. Sometimes I think there's a thin line between building a stage or a gallows.
I figured my best bet was to just play well, keep it lighthearted and flowing.
You'd think the management might have at least turned off the TVs.
Because the Penk Sisters had been running late, my set had to be shortened. I didn't mind.
So I did a Greatest Bits set and then put my guitar in an open D tuning for a big finish. Open tunings do help make any sound checks sound good. Pity I can't open tune my voice.
I figured I wouldn't have to tune my guitar back up again which can be tricky in a noisy room. But then I learned that the next act, The Bellingham Fire Brigade Pipe Band, was running late. Probably stopped en-route to rescue a cat up a tree.
Could I play a little longer, asked Lucky Mike?
Yikes. I'd just played all my best stuff. So now I had to ad-lib an extra half hour. And tune up without breaking any of my ancient guitar strings.
It wasn't really a problem. No strings broke. I don't think folks were really listening. I could have broke 3 strings and hung myself with another. I doubt anyone would have noticed. I'm sure they were having a good time, soaking up the atmosphere and the beer. They were going to enjoy their day whether I was there or not.
Finally the Pipers arrived and blew the place to bits with drums and pipes. The crowd went wild.
Insignificance reaches new lows when you are sandwiched between 2 such head turning acts as the Penks and the Pipes.
I guess this was a production line gig. I was but a humble cog in the great St Pats day musical marathon.
Still, I got paid and actually quite enjoyed it. Lucky Mike's sound check was fine in the end. He really worked at it and coaxed a decent mix out of the equipment. Well done Mike. Thanks.
So it was a gritty little gig. I guess it was nice just to be asked to partake in the celebrations.
Happy Birthday St Patrick.
I must admit I don't know much about St Patrick. I wouldn't be alone there.
I do know a few bits.
I know that Ireland's best loved religious fanatic was actually Scottish.
When it's said that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, it's really symbolism for his stamping out of the old pagan religions. Apparently the pagan chieftains had tattoos of snakes on their arms. It was these chiefs who were driven from Ireland. They were not driven out in a Paddy wagon. Most likely they were driven out on foot by men wielding golf clubs.
There you have it: Golf is a Scottish game invented by St Patrick as he drove the snakes out of Ireland.
I wonder if there are any snakes in Ireland nowadays. Did someone drive them back?
Is it true that New Zealand is snakeless? Perhaps St Patrick went there too? He obviously never got to Australia. That place is Snake central. Or maybe he did go there. Australia might be where he drove them to. He may have died there, delusional, trying to drive the Box Jellyfish out of Oz.
St Patrick did not found Glasgow Celtic Football Club in order to raise funds to feed the poor immigrants of East Glasgow. That was Brother Walfred.
Brother Walfred doesn't seem to get celebrated like St Patrick.
Even St Andrew doesn't get the attention St Patrick does.
My Father's name was Patrick. He was alright but he wasn't a saint.
Mar 12, 2011
The Mad Haggis showed up, ate pancakes and played a few tunes. Then they left and never looked back.
Not a bad gig, just irelevant.
Mar 12, 2011
Boundary Bay after St Pat parade.
Had its moments.
Feb 4, 2011
Lightcatcher Museum. Downtown Artwalk. Bellingham
Tonight's Muddy Boots crew comprised of me, Dave, Aaron, and Yahn.
Not a bad gig, considering this was only Aaron's second gig with us. What we knew, worked, what we didn't, was a bit wobbly. A few songs dragged on a bit due to missed cues but on the whole I think it was fine.
We set up in the entry hall of the new museum. (Is it a museum or an art gallery?). At opening time a lively crowd of art lovers came tumbling in the door like it was the January sales. The café was open and there was quite a buzz in the place.
Bellingham's down town Art Walk happens once a month. It's an interesting event that encourages people to go out and enjoy the local art scene.
Maybe I should have brought along some sketches.
I guess music is art too.
Despite this band format being a little rough round the edges, we had some fun moments. It's always satisfying to nail the end sequence of Annecy. Cardboard box was as good a jam as ever. Bouncy house made its first official band sized appearance. I think we just about got it.
Enjara was a bit shaky. It seems to have lost its "oomph" recently. I think we'll have to give that one a pep talk. Its dynamic is getting lost somewhere.
Weeping Willow was nice with Yahn's haunting harmonica. My harmonica is now so old that I think it felt right at home in the museum. (Though it may be even more at home in a scrap yard). Poor wee guy.
Biggest disappointment for me was that we didn't get to play Painted Pony because we'd accidentally stopped a little early. I thought we'd played too long but we still had 5 minutes or so left.
We'd been practicing Painted Pony a lot recently and Dave had given it a great spooky beat. I guess we just didn't get round to it.
I really should invest in a watch, but right now I can hardly invest in a guitar string.
I guess we didn't get to play Thylacine either. We'd practiced it too because it seemed like an appropriate song for a museum. For that matter I also forgot all about the Guernica song.
Maybe next time.
I hadn't been to many museums or art galleries really till I met Hil. In fact I lived a couple of years in Annecy and hadn't even thought about visiting any local culture. Then I met Hil and within a week I'd been to the Vielle Prison exhibit and toured the castle and it's museum. I drew the line though when she tried to drag me into a church (The Visitation). I'd had my fill of churches since as a kid I had Catholicism rammed down my throat every day of my childhood. I swore I'd never voluntarily enter a church ever again.
Even after 8 years in Regensburg I never set foot in its mighty cathedral though I walked past it almost every day.
Since I got cultured by Hil, we've now been to quite a few museums together. We even have a membership at the Lightcatcher place.
In London we went to a Beatrix Potter exhibit in the Tate Gallery. On Vancouver Island we went to a Da Vinci exhibit. In Glasgow we went to the Burrell Collection. We went to museums in New York, and Montana and Munich too.
But the one museum that sticks out for me was a small museum in the beautiful little Italian town of San Germiniano. This was the museum of medieval torture and it was not for the weak of heart or stomach.
This exhibition revealed in gory, sadistic, realism, the intricate detail that these sick minded inventors put into their contraptions. These nuts were passionate about their work. There was nothing random here. This was cold blooded, pre-meditated torture.
I probably shouldn't go into detail but I've brought you this far….
…..Well there were the usual traditional stuff like stretching racks and thumb screws. Then there were the sarcophaguses with spikes on the inside of the lid. You can guess what the theory was there.
There were sinister looking tool kits that wouldn't have been allowed in a slaughter house. Then there was a pyramid about 10 feet tall. It had a spiky summit that a naked person was forced to sit upon. ("Aw Come on! Jeez!" I hear you say.)
The implement that really got to me though was a relatively simple device. It was hand cuffs, ankle manacles and a neck collar all joined together by a metal rod about 2 feet long. The unfortunate client was shackled in a fetal position and basically left there for an unspecified period of time. The metal rod prevented the prisoner from being able to change position. They lay there suffering horrible muscle spasms and cramps, never knowing if they were there for a day or a year. The end result was generally babbling insanity. Still makes me shiver to think about it.
Were people really that hard to get secrets out of back then? I was ready to confess by the time I'd saw the thumb screws. I hadn't even done anything!
It was all fascinating stuff in a macabre sort of way. It certainly fired up the imagination. Definitely an intense experience.
I clearly remember how relieved I felt when I stepped back into the Italian sunshine after that little horror show.
I definitely needed a beer.
Jeez, I need one now just thinking about it.
Fortunately the Light catcher wasn't that kind of museum. We might have tortured a few ears with our musical exhibit but hopefully not too seriously.
The name "Light catcher" sounds quite pleasant actually. Like a kind of sea bird soaring and diving around high cliffs on a cool sunny day in the North Sea.
Or maybe it's just a prism, or an old camera.
A sun trap. A solar panel. Or a guy with a butterfly net chasing winged light bulbs.
Or an old pointy hat with a broken window.
Jan 28, 2011
There is certainly a difference between ad-libbing because you must and ad-libbing because a band doesn't practice. The latter is what most Muddy Boots gigs have boiled down to recently but at the Honeymoon on the 28th we were forced to ad-lib spontaneously and it turned out to be a lot of fun.
The day before the gig I got an email from Phil saying he was stranded in Ireland with his slide guitar and wouldn't be at the gig. So I got in touch with Yahn. He said he could make it for the second set with his mandolin.
So that was good news.
But then, on the afternoon of the gig, Donald phoned to say he and his bass were ill.
Terry was there at the time and I asked him if he felt like learning 20 songs really quickly. But he said he was going to be too busy.
So I reached Aaron via email and miraculously he was free to play.
We'd had one session about 2 weeks earlier to practice for the Light Catcher gig. I hadn't seen him since.
So we lined up for kick off as a makeshift trio. Like a tricycle built of spare parts. Me, Aaron and Dave. I don't think Dave even knew Aaron. He certainly didn't know that Aaron was taking Donald's place for the evening.
The place was really busy and there were a lot of familiar faces. Ralph and Casey, Murielle, Hil and Darla. There were some other faces too from previous gigs which was encouraging.
So we tip-toed musically into the gig with All By Myself almost like we were trying to waft into the atmosphere without making a ripple. Our sound check merged into the first song. We seem to do that quite often at the Honeymoon. I don't think we do it anywhere else. Usually we play that song as an upbeat rocking blues but it works well as a slower spookier song in the Honeymoon.
It was certainly an odd set made of 3 chord songs with easy changes. I filled it out with some simple solos and played some harmonica, cazumpet, and invisible bugle. In the end it was all fun and probably quite entertaining but I think it would have been hard to pull off for 3 sets.
Just as we were finishing the first set, a gnome appeared and asked to sit in and play some steel guitar.
He came up for the second set and he wasn't bad at all. Said his name was Mike. His last name was polish: something like Guatchz. Anyway he seemed a friendly sort of gnome and he just sat happily at the side playing away. From what I could hear, he seemed in tune and played in time. (Must have been a Metro-Gnome.) He kept looking up at me and saying, "This is a hoot. You are a hoot. What a hoot." He was hooting more than owl. But I had to agree with him. It really was a hoot.
It's always such a gamble allowing a stranger onstage to join in. It can be a nightmare or a pleasant surprise. Mike was a pleasant surprise. He was honest enough to tell me upfront that he wasn't great but he thought he could fill the sound out a bit.
Then Yahn turned up and as ever just joined right in. He must have thought that Phil had shown up after all but his Ireland trip sure had changed him.
Yahn had his harmonicas and mandolin. Soon we were back on our normal set list and all in all it was quite a blast.
But what a crazy band. Only me and Dave really knew the songs. We left a whole bunch of stuff out: Annecy, Riding Home, Dandelion, Bouncy House, I'd been really looking forward to playing Painted Pony. But sadly we couldn't do it.
One song we publicly premiered (flayed) was Mama Mazama. It went quite well I suppose. We'd only practiced it once up at Dave's. But that was with Donald. I doubt Aaron had ever heard it before.
We also played a few Irish/Scottish songs. Muirshin Duirkin, Step It Out Mary, and Donald Where's Yer Troozers. We must be getting into the St Patrick's Day Mode.
I guess despite the obstacles in our way, the gig went well. They say the universe provides. Well she was kind to us that night. Thank you universe and to all the folks who inhabit our local universe who came down to the Honeymoon by chance or design.
Sorry I didn't get to chat more but I was kept occupied rewriting set lists and cheat sheets.
Thanks a zillion to Yahn and Aaron for being there at such short notice and doing such a good job.
Jan 22, 2011
A hall up NW avenue?
At an Early Burns Supper.
I seem to learn more about my Scottish heritage, the longer I stay away from Scotland.
There I was, 10,000 kms from sunny Scotland, just hanging out in the Pacific North West when suddenly I'm attending a Burn's Supper. It was a little unexpected.
Recently I'd been tentatively putting a new band project together and we'd made enquiries into playing the Highland Games this Summer. As musicians, we'd all played the games before but we'd never done it together as one band. Glen (The Games Organizer) had offered to audition us at their annual Burns Supper. It seemed like a good opportunity even though we had very little time for practice.
This new band had only been together less than a month. We barely had a set worth of material but we agreed it was worth the risk. After all the Highland Games were still 6 months away.
The evening's entertainment included Burns poetry recitals and Scottish music and Highland Dancing (Complete with explanation).
There was bag piping and I believe there was even whisky. It was all uncannily civilized. There was haggis (which apparently is illegal in the U.S.) …. And there was Mad Haggis.
Mad Haggis seems to be the band name we've sort of settled on. There were no shortage of other haggis themed contenders for the title. Kilt the Haggis, Stab the Haggis, Bilbo Haggis, Auld Haggis, Hounds of Haggis. I kind of liked, Legalize Haggis. It would look good on a T-shirt or as a bumper sticker. As yet, nothing is official. Half the fun of having a band is naming it. The other half is splitting up.
I kind of liked the name Dirty Dan Haggis. I thought it appropriate for this region. Mad Haggis is okay but I think Dirty Dan Haggis gives the band some local roots and some depth.
Dirty Dan Harris was a regional folk figure about a hundred years ago. He was not renowned for his high hygiene standards. According to Hil, I'd have gotten on quite well with him.
Anyway…We were to play a couple of songs at the end of the evening program.
The group before us (The official entertainment) was called Up In the Air. They kindly let us use their PA system. The only problem was that the speakers were placed so far off to the sides that we really only could hear our own instruments in our hands and not through the speakers.
We forged ahead anyway and although it sounded mostly fine to me, it had in fact been a bit rough. Still, on the positive side, considering we'd only had about 4 practices and I barely knew the band, I think we pulled it off. In fact we were officially offered the Highland Games gig. So we must have did something right.
For posterities sake I'll mention that I think we played, Donald Where's yer Troozers, The Star of the County Down, Haul away, and MacPherson's Lament. I didn't intend to sing the majority but it just seemed to work out that way. In the event that this band continues practicing, I will look forward to splitting the singing between us. That's currently a luxury I can only imagine.
At present, from the Muddy Boots Band I am lucky to extract a rare backing vocal. The only chorus I hear is, "Where's my money?
Back with Izzy Skint in Bavaria, we shared all of the singing. It was hard to shut us all up. I remember when we did our kosak version of the Land Down Under, there were backing vocals answering each other like echoes into the void. Quite a racket, but performed with unbelievable raw energy. The Skint's favourite chorus was ,"4 more beers Monica".
A haggis is a large round sausage. Traditionally its contents are encased in a sheep's stomach. (Probably a dead sheep).
They say the haggis originated in Egypt about 10,000 years ago but nowadays it seems to be recognized as a Scottish dish. Perhaps a Scotsman dug up a mummified haggis from under a pyramid and brought it back to Scotland where it escaped into the highlands and bred with other wild sausages. Over time it evolved into the haggis we all know and love today.
In Scotland, my mother sometimes cooked haggis and I always enjoyed it. In fact I had a harder time eating the turnips. Haggis is full of meat and oatmeal. I guess it's like breakfast and dinner all rolled into one.
The poor haggis seems to have gathered an ugly reputation over the years. I wonder when that began. If people thought about what offal goes into the average cheeseburger, they may be more lenient on the poor haggis. First time haggis tasters seem to revile and dread the great chieftain o' the puddin' race. You'd think they were being force-fed road kill or flirting with cannibalism.
Various myths appear about the haggis. Probably the best known yarn is that haggis have 3 legs. Two on the left side and one on the right. The one on the right is shorter which helps then run around hillsides without losing their balance.
Then there are flying haggis. This myth probably originated in the highlands for the benefit of English tourists. There is a story of a Scotsman standing outside a Bed and Breakfast with a sawn off shotgun. As he surveys the sky, an English tourist passes by and asks what he's hunting.
"Low flying haggis", says the Scotsman solemnly.
The Englishman, being a man of the world, doesn't believe him but he looks up just as a haggis comes flying over the roof. The Scotsman aims from the hip and blows the haggis to bits.
The Englishman is amazed and wanders off raving excitedly to tell his friends that haggis is more than a mere sausage but is a real animal and can fly.
Meanwhile the Scotsman's pal is still hiding up on the roof and getting ready to toss another haggis.
Years ago while I was living in Regensburg (Germany), an English friend of mine drove to Scotland in a VW bus. I asked him half joking to bring me back a haggis.
Two weeks later I came home and found a short giggling message on my answering machine. "Hello James. Got your haggis."
It was such an unusual message that I miked the answering machine and recorded it onto my 4 track studio. Then I incorporated it into an answering machine song.
That haggis lay in the freezer for quite a while. The problem was that I couldn't find anyone brave enough to share it with me. (You'd think that Germans would be keen to try a new exotic sausage species). Eventually I cooked it up and sliced it into haggis burgers. It took me over a week to eat it.
It was delicious.
Fair fa' yer honest sonsie face.
Oh chieftain o' the puddin race.
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place.
So…. What is the Mad Haggis?
That remains to be seen.
Does the Mad Haggis have longevity?
Mainly they are the remnants of local band, Maggie's Fury who recently lost their singer and whistler to California.
Howie plays fiddle. And to my untrained ear, he plays it well.
What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin? According to Howie's theory, violinists get paid more.
Heather is a dancer. She dances ballet and Celtic. Maybe other styles too. She can sing and she plays the bouron. Very talented.
Incidentally, do ballet dancers get paid more than Celtic dancers?
Terry can play the bass and sing at the same time. An admirable ability in my opinion. I can barely master bass playing or singing individually.
Do bassists get paid more than bass players?
Then there's me. Guitarist or guitar player? It doesn't seem to matter. I rarely get paid anyway.
This little band may or may not work. At times, the bottom seems to drop out. I sense a cloud of hesitancy and a fear of commitment.
If it wasn't for upcoming shows, I would say let's keep it casual for now. There's nothing to lose. I think the sudden gig pressure may have induced some stage fright. Rome wasn't built in a day though Hiroshima did get flattened in a matter of seconds.
Let's grow slow.
At the moment we are not about longevity. One minute, we're about gestation and the next, we're about abortion.
Right now we're …neither here nor there. I can't tell if it's a bumpy take-off or a bumpy
Life goes on.
Jan 6, 2011
Old Whatcom Museum. Rotunda Room. Bellingham
James Higgins and the Muddy Boots.
The Rotunda Room in the Old Town Hall.
The Rotunda Room is a very stately room with a high ceiling and a horseshoe shaped upper balcony suitable for Lennonesque jewelry rattling. I wasn't sure if this room reminded me of a wedding cake or a ballroom on the Titanic.
It did have great acoustics though, but I wish it hadn't been quite so brightly lit. We are a dark smoky room sort of band. It's hard to be sneaky in a spotlight.
Nevertheless this was a good little gig: part of the brown bag lunch time series. I believe the last brown bag lunch I had contained a bottle.
This weeks Muddy Boots band were me, Donald, Dave and J(Y)an.
Apart from the first 2 songs I think the rest of the one hour set was all original stuff.
I used my little crate PA for this outing. It was easily loud enough. I almost didn't need it.
Chairs were set out in neat rows and the people were very appreciative of our wee show. Musically, this was one of our tamer gigs. There was nothing particularly daring in the performance. Very safe. But I think we came across as friendly and approachable.
We might even be asked back.
As a band, I think we were all on good lighthearted form. Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy playing with the Boots.
I'd still love to incorporate more of our edgier stuff into our gigs. It feels like we cater too much to a middle of the road crowd because there's more gigs there. Too often, we are a watered down band.
We seldom play songs like Verdun or Jenny Grey, or Don't Flush it Out or Hitching up to Heaven, These songs have dark energy. My favourite kind. (Did we ever play Verdun?)
Jan sauntered in a few minutes late but joined right in on the grand piano. It was just sitting there so he walked up to it like it was all part of the act and started tickling its ivories. Quite an entrance.
I wonder if everyone will expect the Muddy Boots to be showing up with a grand piano from now on.
Dave has now graduated to the double egg shaker solo. Ye can't keep a good man down. He hasn't played with us that often but he's just fitted in like part of the furniture.
Donald on his bass was solid as ever. I love those Blackberry Pie backing vocals.
Generally we're quite tight unless the band shows up all in sunglasses. But that's another story. Which just goes to show that live music is as much about eyes as it is about ears.
Anyway this was a solid gig. I even sold a few CDs.
It looks like February will be the beginning of a sporadic gig period in Bootsville. At the moment our calendar is looking deliberately bleak. Gigs do tend to show up but this year I'm not really actively searching.
We'll still take occasional decent paying gigs that come our way and we'll proudly continue as Bellingham's most invisible band. Maybe we'll win the Most Invisible Band category in the local music paper. Unlikely though as we're too invisible.
Hey maybe we're a cult band. That's the cool way to say nobodies heard of us.
Personally, I think I'm naturally invisible.
I'd do well in a war.
Thanks Dave for being so pro-Boots on your facebook page. I appreciate your enthusiasm. We may yet rise above our invisibility and peek out over the fog.
We're not looking for fame, we're just trying to make a living doing something we enjoy.
Here's one of my early anonymous moments which has given us a great laugh over the years.
Me and Peter played a gig out in Straubing (Bavaria) many years ago. (Maybe you were there.) It was a well advertised affair with posters all over town:
Peter Jordan and James Higgins.
Live at Joe's Pub.
Traditional Scottish and Irish Rock n Roll.
On the night of the gig, the place was jammed. There wasn't an empty seat in the house. People were paying money for this too. We were a bit nervous so we drank a beer to calm the nerves. Then the start time was delayed to let everyone in. So we had a few more beers.
Finally the herd was settled. Joe himself introduced us from behind the bar where he had a karaoke mic plugged in.
His bar had its own theme tune. A jingle type piece with a sugary chorus of "Joe's pub, Joe's pub…." When the song was finished, Joe spoke to the crowd like a boxing ring announcer. "Ladies and gentlemen…. All the way from Ireland …It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you….in the far corner…Peter Jordan and James……..(There was an awkward pause while he consulted a piece of paper)….eh…Higgins."
The lights went down as the audience welcomed us with claps and whoops. Then you could have heard a pin drop. But the silence was abruptly shattered as we thrashed into the Leaving of Liverpool at a hundred miles an hour. The audience loved it. Their applause was deafening. But it was all swiftly down hill from there as our free beer kicked in. At one point Peter fell off his stool as I was slurring through some tune. He was crawling about under tables on his hands and knees, mumbling that he couldn't find his plectrum. I began to sway involuntarily. The audience began to lose interest and the ambient room volume rose. We bashed away but we were only playing unplugged acoustic guitars so we were slowly drowned out.
Towards the end of the night, Joe leaned out from behind his bar and said, "Play that Rock n Roll song you started with". So we relaunched into the Leaving of Liverpool and the crowd came back to the fold. There was renewed clapping, singing and stomping. All was forgiven. But by then Peter and me could barely stand. It was getting late so we said good night and clattered clumsily off stage.
The crowd did not cry out for more.
Meanwhile Joe had kept track of our beer intake throughout the night by marking little X's on 2 cardboard beer mats. When he showed us these "deckles" at the end of the night, the Xs formed hypnotic spirals round and round each mat into the centre. He took us into the empty darts room and solemnly held up the 2 beer mats. His expression was set and grim. I experienced a sudden sobering moment. Surely he wasn't going to make us pay for the beers. That would cost more than we'd earned. This might have been a good moment to be invisible.
"These", he said, tapping a finger on the deckles. "…..Are on me".
So ended the legendary night at Joe's Pub Straubing. Hil drove us all back to Regensburg in the Suzuki van. Somehow we were convinced we saw a Polar Bear in the bushes on the edge of town. (More on that another time.)
An hour later, we dropped Peter off near Ostengasse where he staggered off towards the old Dubliner.
As we were driving off I saw one of our Joe's Pub posters. It had been ripped in half like someone had tried to tear it down. Now it read….
Peter Jordan and Ja….
Yip. That's natural anonymity. You see, even back then I could do it without even trying.