Sex, drugs and rock and roll…
Sorry to disappoint with the misleading title. Sitting on the edge of my bed at 4am having been up most of the night and not for the right reasons, I was having difficulty raising a smile, never mind anything else. Id thought about being sensible and going to bed early but sitting chatting to 1am meant it stayed just that, a thought.
Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics were ringing in my head ‘and a freight train running through the middle of my head’ mainly because at 2am and 3am the local passing freight train horn was indeed ringing in my head. Not quite ‘I’m on fire’ but ‘wishing I was dead’ was probably more appropriate. Good job Id not be visiting any tall railway bridges today.
As for Sex and groupies and the like, well the target audience was indeed primarily women, but in the age range 50-death, so I thought the opportunites were probably limited and besides which I’m too young for that. Maybe next year.
Drugs? At the minute I would stab someone for a decent hit of caffeine, luckily our previous Black Friday experience (seriously what the fuck was all that about Tesco and Asda?) in Canada meant the Keurig machine was on overdrive for this tour. Day one I was standing in the local supermarket asking ‘which of these is the strongest’. Yes my local drug dealer was in the form of Extra Foods.
There was plenty of Rock and Roll however and above all else that is why I was here. There is something special about being around musicians and creative types in general. I spent the first 10 years of my working life around engineers and the numbers of them with any real passion in their soul could be numbered on the fingers of one hand. The fact they are still my dearest, closest friends is testament to that. With that sort of background, working with creative types can be frustrating. Things like time and money are notional concepts. Why bother sorting out logistics properly when we can get up at 4am instead of say 9am if I was running things. Maybe I should have run things, maybe I just liked being a passenger at times and then bitching about the chaos.
One thing is for sure though, no matter who I work with, no matter what continent, what time it is, how ill you were last night, how little sleep you had, how much your back or leg hurts, how far you had to travel to get home, when those lights come up and the music starts, the show goes on.. …and what a show.
This mornings back seat nodding dog performance was sponsored by caffeine, paracetamol and ibuprofen. Oh and a banana. Always either travel with bananas or buy some when you get there. I learned from my cycling days to get a few bananas down you and that hill doesn’t look so high or your ass doesn’t feel that sort. I don’t think that last comment helps much in this situation and I don’t think it was true either. I once went out with a girl who dressed as a banana for a living and another one who loved frozen bananas. I do realise how inappropriate that is in the context of the rest of the paragraph..
Its going to be a long car journey if that’s the train of thought.
Despite never sleeping whilst travelling, I missed most of the journey down. I do remember stopping for the usual mixture of corn oil, gmo fed beef, poison and other toxins that passes for North American fast food washed down with a cup of warm brown liquid whose only passing resemblance to coffee was the word ‘coffee’ on the cup. No doubt at some point they will resort to just warm brown emulsion paint watered down with a name like kappucino or some such to get round food laws which require food to be actual food and not some bastardised laboratory concoction. Yes, two weeks in my belt no longer fits me. That’s not right.
We were playing in a brand new building, a local couple had put up a lot of the money for the local high school to build a new sports complex which featured a massive stage and seating for 800. We had played here on my last tour in the old sports hall with a reasonable stage and I think chairs laid out on the floor for about 200 or so.
The staff here were excellent and I remembered them from the last time and they remembered me which was a bonus, I think that was a good thing. With everything under control I was a bit of a spare part so took a wander down into the town of Weyburn. By an odd quirk of fate we were playing late afternoon, in daylight, on a Sunday. All of which were odd and meant that I was wandering round town on a Sunday morning and I walked for almost 2 hours without seeing a single other person on the streets. So this is what its like to walk around Belfast as a tourist on a Sunday morning.
It was cold, overcast, dull as well, you could almost be at home.
I met the band down at the restaurant that was providing us with lunch and either it was the best place in town or the only open place in town as it was bunged to the rafters and judging by the clientelle, most of them were probably going to our gig. I watched each of the guys put away enough food to feed a family each and considered my now non-fitting belt and ordered a sandwich. The sandwich would have fed a small army and with a couple of hours work ahead I only ate a portion of it and then had to explain that I did like the food, just not that much of it.
The guys drove back to the gig but I thought I had to at least try to walk off a fair bit of that lunch.
It was the oddest feeling doing the load out after the gig still in daylight. Something not quite right about it, similar to going to the cinema during the day. Id managed to get all the photos wired in before the concert finished so had little to do on the road on the way back, so tried to catch up on my reading on the tablet. Id bought a few travel related books so read some of them on the way home to form future travel ideas, although it would take a bit to recover from this trip, its been so full on. Any trip coming after the South America/Antarctic one wasn’t going to live up to that high and working here on the tour meant that the extra stock photos were low down the wishlist. Id not been able to bring some of my kit with me so bought some lighting equipment in the local pro photo store in saskatoon and even that hadn’t been out of the bag yet. We just hadn’t had time for the promo shots so would need to make time before the next gig. I really need to take control of some of the logistics for that last gig.
We pulled in for a pitstop (polite way of saying piss stop) on the way back and somehow found ourselves sitting down to eat in an italian chain restaurant. On the TV in the corner one of my friends was presenting the news on Canadian TV so must remember to send here a message about it. Everyone was having a full meal so I ordered what I thought was the smallest thing on the menu without ordering a kiddie meal. The plate of pasta and meatballs that arrived was about 5 times the volume of the plate of pasta I had in Rome and about 1/5 of the taste. I ate about three meatballs and tried to push it into a pile that didn’t look so bad. Everyone thought I wasn’t feeling well. I had a sore back and leg before the meal and felt a bit queasy at the sheer volume after but I really had just had enough of eating. I don’t remember the food being this bad on my previous trip or maybe things have just progressed that much in the last 18 months. Other than the perogies in the small local cafe a couple of days ago and the home cooked food we had done, everything else tasted of oil or chemicals or some such. Reminds me very much of the type of ‘food’ we got in Moscow back in 1998.
As I went up to pay the bill I was presented with a large plastic box filled with pasta. Eh? Your leftovers sir. Eh? Just take it someone behind me laughed.
Id forgotten all about that, taking what you don’t eat boxed up to feed the small army you have been amassing in your basement back home. Id maybe eat it tomorrow, or maybe Id just throw it straight down the toilet and cut out the middleman. I better read up about TTIP or all this sort of crap will be coming here. If we think the level of food safety is bad at the minute in the EU, just wait until all this other stuff comes our way. I read a stat that something like 80% of the processed ‘foods’ sold in supermarkets in the US are banned in the EU. I know Canada is not the US but it too seems to be going that way.
Now Ive got that off my chest I am hyprocritically going to say I spent the next few days tour free and of course I set about taking photos and chose… food. Well more precisely various types of cakes and pies. Oh and I did eat the pasta for dinner the next day but that’s all I ate that day (other than a couple of bananas). A few days detoxing, well apart from eating some of the apple and pumpkin pies Id bought for photos, along with out walking an hour or two each day in beautiful clear blue sunshine really did lighten the mood. The effects of being in the dry climate were starting to pass and the nosebleeds and headaches had stopped. It was a great couple of days not having to be on the road and resting up because this weekend was going to be hectic, 4-5 hour drive again to the last gig on my part of the tour, home that night, Ukrainian thanksgiving dinner, then a day resting up before the 2 day journey home, then straight to work back in Belfast.
Now, Ive just ranted about food and now Im going to rave about taking a trip out to the Berry Barn on one of the free days. Id heard about the Berry Barn long before Id ever set foot in Canada. Id had Saskatoon berry syrup from the Berry Barn as a gift years ago and despite being here twice before, like the perogies and cabbage rolls, Id never had any of the mystical saskatoon berry pie. The saskatoon berry pie is just that, a pie made up of saskatoon berries, base, full of berries, no crust and maybe some cream on top. The Berry Barn features a pick your own system in season and all the pies are home produced from their own produce. Saskatoon is named after the berry and not the other way round.
I have to say it was worth the wait.
The last gig was in a town called Bengough, again down near the US border, perhaps the furthest away of all the gigs we have done. We weren’t up at stupid o’clock for this one, we took our time getting down, although taking the most direct road over some potholed country roads was more interesting. Not my choice on route despite dropping hints all the previous night and all during the first 3 hour section of the way down. At one point we met a massive load hauling a grain silo on a road just wide enough to accommodate it and that sort of confirmed the decision to return, in the dark, along the main highway. It would take about 20 mins more but as it was also in towards the end of harvest time there would also be a lot of farm machinery out on the roads late into the night.
We were down at the venue pretty early as well and I went for a wander around the town. I had about 3 hours to kill before the home made lasagne arrived and after all my bitching about processed and fast food this was one thing that I wasn’t going to miss. It took about 20 mins to walk around the whole town so I thought Id just walk south for about an hour and then the same back. I went out on to the highway and there wasn’t another sinner about the place. It was a beautiful completely blue sky autumn day and about the half way point I ran out of water. It wasn’t too warm out but was a bit of a wakeup call. There was occasional passing traffic on the road so not as dangerous as my previous long walk out during winter time but a good reminder to be mindful of my surroundings.
As I turned back the sun was behind me and I cast a long shadow walking here with my two cameras slung over the shoulders. It reminded me of the old TV series ‘Kung Fu’ with Grasshopper wandering the globe getting in to adventures, as immortalised by Jules in Pulp Fiction. Tired, thirty with sore feet and legs didn’t really come in to it as you stand looking off into the distance on a beautiful blue sky day with your shadow stretching out in front of you. There are days when you are just glad to be alive and this was one of them.
I got back to the venue and we had our food and I managed to get the main guys outside just as the sun was setting for a few promo shots for later on in the tour and for the tour brochure early next year. The difference between this and the early gigs was stark, we had a few gigs under our belt, logistics were getting better and a lot of the smaller niggles had been ironed out. The band members weren’t a constant and different players were being called in at different times and dependent on nights played and venue. We had done the first two gigs with the same guys and although the changes were well choreographed and seemless it wasn’t until this gig that everyone who was due to play on the tour had actually played together. Although it went as well as planned, it was good to get this done as every little small thing had the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted. There were issues that would arise with every future gig but all the logisitics issues around getting a 9 piece band plus merchandise plus photographer on the road every couple of days to different styles and sizes of venues with different equipment levels were now behind us and plans were drawn and redrawn and were now coming together.
After the gig we did out usual mingling with the crowd, signing autographs (yes even I signed one as it was all my photos on the artwork, posters, promotions etc) and chatting with the audience. I found out that the vast majority of them had seen me on my wander round town so it was good to know I was being looked out for, or maybe viewed with suspicion, they were too polite to say. I got chatting with the old garage owner who had some beautiful old cars in his lot and was telling him about my meagre attempts at restoration with my alfa. I should have called in and said hello and chatted with his mechanics, maybe next time. Would be good to do a series of portraits with them in the shop.
How many soundchecks did you attend today? 1-2, 1-2.
We were split into two cars for the way back with the hired gear going in one van and our own gear in ours. We had travelled down by different roads on the way down and so we were keeping up by text on the way back and we were coincidently texted back and forth about my trip to Antarctica and the one to see the Northern Lights in Norway. Just then out of the front of the windscreen I saw the wispy white curtains of the Northern Lights forming and texted the guys in front. Im just glad that there are so many long straight roads in Canada as everyone was bending down peering through the windscreens and paying little attention to the road ahead. No traffic at this time of night and it was mesmerising watching the white wispy trails dance across the sky.
A fitting end to my part of the tour and there would be no sleeping in the back for anyone on the way back as everyone was scanning the sky looking for that white turning to green but it didn’t appear again.
The final couple of days were taken up with attending an extended family thanksgiving dinner and then a visit to the Wanuskewin Heritage Park. The latter was also on the list of must see things I hadnt seen during my previous visits and was an interesting insight into the First Nations history of the area including an energetic display by a Grassdancer and fair play to him for that level of commitment after a Thanksgiving dinner!
The journey home was arduous with a 3am start and redeye flight to Toronto. The stopover in Toronto was 7 hours so I booked in to the executive lounge and shared the queue for the sweet and sour chicken with a major Hollywood celebrity. His PA was running about like an ninja trying to get between him and my camera at every opportunity but I was just interested in the food, drink and somewhere to put my head down for a couple of hours. I tried to get my head down on the flight to St Johns but was constantly interrupted by my neighbour, who at one point nipped me to get me to wake up to answer a question. Normally a punch in the face is a good answer to that but I was so tired and he was an older gentleman and it made me feel sorry for air crew who have to put up with this behaviour all the time. Luckily the onward flight to Dublin I was sitting in a different seat so managed to get some rest and slept about half of the bus journey to Belfast.
Having been in a dry climate for so long, everything feels damp when you get home to Ireland, every broken bone you have ever had hurts like hell but that feeling when you get home and close your front door after a tough trip is something that should never be understated.
Any long trip after Antarctica was going to be a tough gig, how do you follow up the best trip of your life? You dont, you get on with the job in hand and you put the miles under your belt. You appreciate the things you see for the things they are, like the crooked trees, home made lasagne, taking friends kids to the zoo and extended family thanksgiving dinner. Its the simple things like friends, company, banter on the road that make trips as much as the amazing scenery but for now the trip is over, the cards need to be downloaded, the batteries need to be charged and the clothes washed because tomorrow is another day and another job.