Jim Malcolm's OBD Tour Diary USA Spring 2004
After a difficult and strenuous summer filled with trout fishing, child minding and single malt commitments, singer/guitarist Jim Malcolm has recently completed his tour diary for the Old Blind Dogs Spring Tour in the USA.
Thursday April 8th
Travel day - The journey was exceptionally tedious as we had three flights to get from Edinburgh to Philly. Flying with musical instruments is always stressful as you can never tell whether you will get things damaged or stolen. Aaron had his bass slightly damaged and Fraser's huge new drum case stretches the rules and his nerves to breaking point. We arrive at Suzi and John's house in Wilmington by ten o'clock and are treated to some excellent Mexican food. Old dogs pal Eileen has come over from Michigan, and it's great to see her. Nathan, our sound engineer, has driven 600 miles up from Asheville, North Carolina, and Jonny has spent a week having fun in California - so we are all beat. Unusually, I am the last to retire and that's not late. So, at this stage we are keeping our powder dry.
Friday April 9th
The Tin Angel, Philadelphia - Opening salvo in Philly after a nice chilled day hanging about at Suzi and John's house.
This is a tough show because it's a very small stage. A bunch of folk insist on speaking very loudly right beside the stage and I have to resort to schoolmistress tactics to shut them up. However, they seem hardwired to chat. Show goes well although the venue have another show after so we only have time to play one long set. Feel it's a bit of a con for the fans, but we're just pawns in this game of chess. Apres soiree back at Suzi and John's sees the boys somewhat back to drinking strength and Jonny and Aaron were still sawing through reels when I retired at three. Sore heads beckon.
Saturday April 10th
Virginia Beach - And it came to pass that the heads were sore. A longish drive through the rural splendour of Southern Delaware. Fruit trees are in blossom. Tiger has pulled back from the abyss in the Masters. We are looking forward to playing on a decent stage. Gig in great library theatre. Goes well. Some folks have driven down from DC - good going.
Apres concert fun with Marsha and Phillip, who is a great beer buff. He has an astonishing collection of bottles. We play a few games of Monkeys, which is Jockney rhyming slang for darts. Work it out. I get beaten by tortoise Aaron after taking a hare-like lead.
Sunday April 11th
Easter Sunday Day orf - Long journey back up to the Philly area where some very good folks Jean and Gary are throwing us a party. It's a hard life. Tiger has really blown it in the Masters. Begining to look as if he might really have lost that amazing form he used to have. That Everest of sporting achievements, the Jack Nicklaus record, is starting to look unscalable again. Listening to Steely Dan on Nathan's Ipod as we swish through rainy southern Delaware. Driving through a very green and pleasant land. Did I mention the blossom? Aaron is over his dose of the Frodos (an annoying little sh** that clings on to the ring). Arrive at J and G's and are wowed as usual by their wonderful stone house that Gary built (he's a stone mason - well, you'd have to be to build this baby). The trad Easter feast is not something we have in Scotland, and it rocks. Unfortunately I pass out from over-indulgence but my honour is saved by the rest of the band, who strike up a rousing sesh in the basement, which is like a set from Shakespeare's Macbeth. There's a possibility of me going fishing the next day if the weather holds up, although the forecast is for cold and rain, which sucks. We watch Big Phil Mickleson snatch the Masters on the final green. His first major and he looked as chuffed as is physically possible. Eyes like saucers. Would you mind peeing into this sample bottle, Mr Mickleson?
Monday April 12th
Silver Springs, Maryland - Weather sucks so only get as far as a few casts out on Jean's lawn and still get pretty wet. I had an early night but was surprised to learn that the boys have had yet another monster nicht back at Suzi and John's. This morning they failed to wake to do a radio phoner - Doh! I spend some time catching up with the Dogs Forum. It's all getting a bit interesting, with even Jonny rising to the bait of a few folks unhappy with recent line-up developments. Someone has even written a song about the change, which is actually pretty good. Weather gets more foul as we gingerly drive south. Weather is worthmentioning as it has been so sh**. Audience, amazingly, turns up despite the weather, and we have a good show. But after being spoiled rotten by the Green Willow crew and then treated splendidly by the Virginia Beach folks, the band hospitality at this venue is surprisingly lacking.
Tuesday April 13th
Kennet Square, PA - Back to hospitality central and a great show in familiar surroundings with lots of pals to cheer us along. Apres back at John and Suzi's is fairly full-scale, with Beatle medleys at al. But monster travel day looms and 'Pleasures are like poppies spread, you sieze the flower the bloom is shed,' as the Bard did say in Tam O'Shanter.
Wednesday April 14th
Travel day to Little Rock Arkansas - On this day the Fellowship of the (d)Ring(k) have to split up as some fly and others van it to the home city of Oral Officer William Jefferson Clinton. Nathan and Jonny are vanateers facing a 20-hour drive. But the other jetskateers don't have it all their way, as flying involves doing a breakfast TV appearance with a 7am start. Flights go smoothly and weather in Arkansas is excellent. Presenter Mark takes us out for great Mexican meal.
Thursday April 15th
Little Rock - Early doors at tv studio and we are performing in an empty farmer's market. There's a bizarre little episode when one of the TV crew asks us the name of the song we do, and think it's 'Tramps and Hookers' (Tramps and Hawkers, in fact). Nathan and Jonny appear at about four in the afternoon, after one hell of a drive. Gig goes well, audience very appreciative. Mark introduces us as '...the best Scottish band ever!>' which is nice, although the Bay City Rollers might have something to say about that, and they certainly sold more records. After the concert we sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with Mark's daughter in six-part harmony.
Friday April 16th & Saturday April 17th
Tulsa - Two nights in this Oklahoma city (not Oklahoma City, though) in a very nice hotel right next to a very nice venue. Both nights are very well attended and we make some very good recordings using Nathan's hard disk set-up. Lots of verys there. Apres sees us gravitating towards a bar which happens to have the largest collection of single malts in Oklahoma. You can guess the rest, and the next day is a bit of a write-off. I watch an entire baseball game on tv for the first time ever. Second night we are more subdued on stage but get some of the tempos bang on a little slower, so Tulsa may be a very important component of our live album. All in all great hospitality, and we hope to be back.
Sunday April 18th
Kansas City - This city is actually in the State of Missouri, confusingly enough. Show is in a very modern church with great auditorium. Church gigs are great, but I do find myself having to censor my intros - as you know, Dogs songs are pretty black. We were rapidly running out of T shirts and managed to get some made as one of the organisers had a good contact. Thanks.
Monday April 19th
Cedar Rapids - A return to a town we have played quite regularly. Last time it was in a blizzard. But spring has sprung. Cedar Rapids calls itself the city of five seasons - 4 and time to enjoy them. We thought it was because they counted winter twice. Venue folks very hospitable and we do a good show. Apres we are approached by a guy who works for Krispy Kreme doughnuts and heoffers to deliver some to our hotel. True to his word, two large boxes of delicious doughnuts are waiting for us at reception in the morning.
Tuesday 20th April
Drive to Ohio - Monster, scary, 13-hour drive through storms. Very glad to reach Mansfield and good folks Melanie and Fate.
Wednesday April 21st
Bellville, Ohio - A whole day in one place and a chance to rehearse in the afternoon to get some other songs up to performance - what a luxury. The gig has been sold out for weeks and goes swimmingly. Apres we get minky stinky and stay up embarrassingly late and Frasercollapses in an old chair in a manoeuvre Buster Keaton woud have been proud of. Jonny is very excited as back home Aberdeen beat Celtic, ending their 77 home game run without loss (that's Celtic's run, sadly, not Aberdeen's). Big day for the Dons. Jonny not so chipper when four days later Aberdeen are thumped by come-lately minnows Livingston.
Thursday April 22nd
Toledo, Ohio - Small show that attracted an audience from everywhere except Toledo. Eileen comes down from Michigan to support us, having recovered from our extended stay in Delaware. We're working with what's probably the worst PA of the tour. The on-stage monitors were completely out of phase, so it sounded like singing through a chorus pedal. Difficult night for singing harmonies. Still, it's a good night.
Friday April 23rd
Chicago - Two gigs with living legend John Renbourn who we last worked with in Northern Italy. He's in good form at the start of a US tour. We mention that we had bought some fire works and he told us a salutory tale. He had been on tour in the US with his son and late at night when they were tired and emotional his son had let off fireworks in the hotel room. Rockets bouncing round the room. The hotel and the police took a dim view. Legs were spread and deportation threatened. These old timers can still throw up a few surprises. Both gigs go well but we have a monster day ahead, so it's jammies on.
Saturday April 24th
Carbondale - Wow dude, a major day in the the history of the obds. Starts with killer early start and six-hour drive to very south of Illinois through torrential rain. The little outdoor festival is nearly washed away and the promoter looks to be on a shirt-loser. We have a difficult sound check and do a half hour unplugged set in the soggy outdoor festival site. Then retire to the hotel. It's right beside a Steak and Shake, the executive fast food chain that Nathan has turned us on to. Their fries are a work of art and design worthy of Leonardo. Anyway, as we were chilling watching some pap on the telly, tornado warnings began to interrupt the programmes. Carbondale was right in the path of a major front which was developing rotation. Oo er, missus. We figured that we would be safer at the gig than on the top floor of the flimsy motel. So we went to the venue. I was temporarily calmed by a local who said there was no problem unless the tornado siren went off. Ten minutes later - woooooooooooooooooooooo - the siren sounded.
Lightning was flashing all around and torrential rain began to fall. But after the wash-out there was no way the the promoters were going to stop the show. So we played right through a tornado warning. Most of the audience were oblivious to the whole unfolding situation as they had been in the venue for a couple of hours watching the support band. when we got on stage we quickly realised that the support band, a collection of twenty or so young Irish style musicians (all very good) had rearranged our settings on the desk, so we started with a nightmare that took most of the first half to resolve. This made it the hardest gig on the tour so far - as well as the scariest.
But the folks were all very nice and we felt bad about going back to the hotel and not the session at a nearby pub. But we had a long drive and an afternoon show in Memphis the next day. Incidentally, the tornado failed to materialise - or touch down, as they say. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. Seriously, though, eight people were killed by a tornado north of us during that bad spell of weather as we drove from Cedar Rapids to Ohio. Wewere close to that, oblivious to warnings on the radio.
Sunday April 25th & Monday 26th April
Memphis - An early start again for an afternoon show down in the land of the King. The show is organised by Robert Campbell, who always addresses Rory as 'kinsman'. We're playing in an art gallery auditorium. Hospitality is first rate and after a very good show the band are taken for a great meal. We are staying down town in Memphis and have the next day off, so we elect to stay in this historic town. Our day off sees us sightseeing down on Beale street, the home of the Blues. It boasts a vibrant night scene which includes BB King's club. The boys go for a big night out, but I'm very tired and chicken out. Just as well, as someone has to hold it together for the next day in Alabama.
Tuesday 27th April
Florence, Alabama - A return for me to a great venue, the Florence Art Center, where I played on my October/November solo tour. The boys are all a bit wiped, so I do all the driving. Scooter Muse is the promoterand is working hard at building an audience for Celtic music in northern Alabama. He's coming to Scotland in August, so I'll get a chance to repay some hospitality on home turf. The show goes well. But the boys have an early night after their big one in Memphis. I'm last to go to bed, which is highly unusual.
Wednesday 28th April
Montgomery, Alabama - A gig for the Alabama Highland Games Society in another city where I played on my recent solo tour. The venue is an old high school hall, and the concert goes well. Apres is a bit weak as Montgomery closes spectacularly early and the only place to eat is IHOP or a very noisy sports bar with a dozen huge tellies broadcasting different gamesof baseball, basketball and ice hockey. As IHOP has no booze, the Sports bar is an automatic choice. Organisers of the concert vow to have a cookout at someone's home next time, which sounds great.
Thursday 29th April
Carterville, Georgia - Georgia is an undeveloped area for the Dogs and we find ourselves playing at an Irish Bar with a bijou stage area. The promoter has underestimated the PA gear we need and is sent to the local music shop to get a sixteen-channel desk. A brand new digital desk appears, never been out the box. Nathan stuns us all by setting it all up in about ten minutes, without needing to look at the instructions - and he's never even used this complicated piece of kit before. Mucho respect. There are a few real enthusiasts for the band in the audience, and it's great to see them. Otherwise the crowd is a bit noisy. But the promoters are very hospitable and we stay in a lovely house out in the forest. Jonny, Rory and Aaron take the notion to play a few tunes and stay up late sawing through hundreds of tunes. I'm trying to sleep. It's not easy when you know the tunes, and what's coming next.
Friday 30th April
Asheville - Nathan's home town, and a gig we have been looking forward to for a while. We're playing as part of a great concert series in the Diane Wortham Theatre, which is a very good auditorium, and we have a good concert. Unfortunately we have to leave very early the next day to drive and fly to Minneapolis. But we go for a few drinks at Nathan's watering hole, Jack of the Wood. There's a great local bluegrass band playing, all working round one mic in the traditional style. We wonder if the dogs could do this?
We meet up with Mark Pippenger, the promoter from Little Rock who has just moved to Asheville. He has been doing a lecture tour (he's a neurologist) and has been tangling with tornadoes like us. In fact he's a trained tornado spotter and tells me a lot more about them. Rotating wallclouds are the cause.
Saturday 1st May
Minneapolis - A big travel day. We drive to Charlotte and fly to the nothern state of Minnesota. Well, what can you say about the Minnesota folk festival? It was cold mostly, with a few bouts of bloody freezing. When the onstage monitor guy is wearing ear muffs and a balaclava, you know you're in trouble. I cool down to the second coldest I've ever been on stage - for coldest, see next day...
Sunday 2nd May
Minneapolis - May day, May Day. Another gig in the fricken freezer. Bagpipes dip to well below sea level. Plectrum sewn on to fingers lost to frost bite the night before. Had another solo performance - a testing experience. But I don't want to sound ungrateful because with kinder weather the festival would have been a joy. It must be pretty scary organising events like these.
Monday 3rd May
Home Sweet Home - Right, that's enough of the USA. We're off home to nurse our weary hangovers and hug the kids.