Saturday August 17th. Ron and Terl, Nick and Matt are driving up with the kit, while the rest of us gather at King’s Cross Station in London for the long train journey north. We board the 11am high speed link to Edinburgh Waverley via the East Coast Main Line, stow instruments and luggage and settle down to read, talk, snooze or simply stare through the window as we roll through the suburbs and out across this green and pleasant land. The ECML is 393 miles long and links London, the South East and East Anglia with Yorkshire, the North East Regions and Scotland. Forming a key artery on the eastern side of Great Britain, the route broadly parallels the A1 Trunk Road. It was built by three railway companies, each serving their own area but with the intention of linking up to form the through route that became the East Coast Main Line. The North British Railway, from Edinburgh to Berwick-on-Tweed, was completed in 1846, the North Eastern, from Berwick-on-Tweed to Shaftholme and the Great Northern, from Shaftholme to Kings Cross, in 1850. In 1923 the three companies combined to become the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), which became part of British Rail in 1948. The ECML has been the backdrop for a number of famous rail journeys and locomotives, including the famous steam locomotives ‘Flying Scotsman’ and ‘Mallard’... for children growing up in the ‘60’s, no model railway set was complete without at least one of those legendary engines... is it just me, or is the driver’s accent changing the further north we get? The announcements change from Cockney to Yorks and broad Scots as we zip through Berwick upon Tweed. Maybe it’s part of the training (or maybe different drivers?) Could just be my imagination of course.... crossing the border now... and the weather has taken a turn for the worse. I knew I shouldn’t have packed those Hawaiian shirts! We arrive in Edinburgh to sunshine and the frayed ends of a street demonstration, taxi to our accommodation on St. John’s Hill, shower and eat and head over to the New Town Theatre in George Street for our 9pm soundcheck... on stage at 11.45pm, tired and a little frayed ourselves, first night nerves fluttering ... until Sadie jokes that she hasn’t “been up this late for thirty years”, the audience laugh, and we launch into ‘How Not To Lose Things’....
Sunday August 18th. After a good opening night we’re out on the Royal Mile for a photo shoot and to hand out flyers. The weather is good, the crowd (and there are lots of them) are happy. The Royal Mile, the name given to the succession of streets which form the main thoroughfare of the Old Town, was first used in W M Gilbert's Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901), and was further popularised as the title of a guidebook, published in 1920. Many millennia ago, retreating ice sheets, deposited their glacial debris behind the castle rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands, resulting in a distinctive crag and tail formation. Running eastwards from the crag, the Royal Mile sits on the ridge of the tail which slopes gently down to Holyrood Palace. Steep ‘closes’ (alleyways) run between the many tall ‘lands’ (tenement buildings) off the main thoroughfare. An eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions, the High Street is crowded with tourists, entertainers and buskers. We gather at Parliament Square where, in January 2012, the City of Edinburgh Council held a summit with residents, traders and other interested parties to discuss the issue of tourist merchandise, described by some as 'Tartan Tat', taking over the street, and how the Royal Mile can be made into a five-star visitor attraction. Two band members in particular are attracted by the merchandise on offer. Terl and Danica both want kilts, Dani a mini pink one and Terl the more ‘manly’ Highland variety. The truth, we are reliably informed, is that men NEVER wear anything underneath. Terl wants one even more. And a sporran to keep his drumsticks in... we mingle with the crowd, handing out flyers, while photographers follow Elizabeth down the Mile... later we trek over to the New Town Theatre where Elizabeth is the star attraction on Johnnie Walker’s ‘Guest Night’. BBC Radio legend Johnnie Walker, famous for his years on pirate Radio Caroline and Radio’s 1 and 2, is regarded as one of radio’s finest interviewers. We perform ‘acoustic’ versions of ‘How Not To Lose Things’ and ‘LA Days’, and Johnnie talks to Elizabeth about her life (and loves!) and shows clips from her movies and, of course, ‘Downton Abbey’.... another night, another show, half an hour to set up and soundcheck and we’re on again, a little more relaxed, a little tighter, each night a warm-up for the next. Tonight we introduce ‘All My Sins’ and our first encore, ‘Open Mic Blues’. After the show there’s a meet and greet with Elizabeth while the boys pack up and prepare for tomorrow’s early appearance on BBC Radio Scotland’s Fred MacAulay show.
Monday August 19th. Up at 7 for an 8am taxi call, then whisked off to BBC Radio’s Potterow venue where, after coffee and breakfast, we perform our ‘acoustic’ versions of ‘How Not To...’ and ‘LA...’ in front of a live audience of 350. Elizabeth joins other guests on the sofa while the rest of us retire to the Green Room for more coffee, banter and a flick through the papers. There’s a great photo of Elizabeth handing out flyers on the front spread of this morning’s ‘Times’.... by lunchtime the late night/early morning has caught up with us and while most of us are ready for a siesta, one or two repair to the local hostelry before getting their heads down for a nap... then, before we know it, it’s time to trek back over town to George Street for our third show... a great crowd tonight and the best performance so far, the band cooking, Elizabeth joking with the audience ... lots more energy, we must be getting used to these late nights...
Edinburgh. What does the name evoke?
• The Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which was always a highlight on the TV when I was small).
• Edinburgh Castle.
• The University of Edinburgh (graduates include Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott).
I haven’t been there often. The Nelson Brothers went to Scotland on holiday and made the walk up the hill to the majestic castle. I once played there on a curious double bill with a folky singer-songwriter and the disgraced, now redeemed, former Tory MP Jonathan Aitken who was reading from his new book. We caught the train up, did the gig then got the sleeper back. I had a romantic notion of the sleeper train - it was grim. We left Edinburgh around midnight and rattled slowly down the starless tracks. It seemed I awoke every five minutes and arrived exhausted in London at around 6:00am.
• The Edinburgh Festival.
And so to Sadie and the Hotheads at the Edinburgh Festival; a whole nine days of concerts, radio, TV, media, and street busking. It’s always a joy when the Hotheads reconvene; the laughter starts, the creativity, the music. Sometimes when there’s been a break because of the Downton Abbey filming schedule it feels like you’ve got back on your bicycle and forgotten how to ride – but that abates once Terl starts the first count-in.
As the preparations fall into place (the van is loaded, the tickets booked), there’s a feeling of excitement and anticipation. A run like this is great for the band – get the tunes tight, maybe venture off the beaten track a bit, loosen up creatively, explore some new songs, create a sonic tapestry.
It seems appropriate for actress come singer-songwriter to appear at the Edinburgh Festival. Elizabeth was keen as soon as the possibility was mentioned. Lady Cora becomes Elizabeth McGovern becomes Sadie and swaps Downton Abbey for the Edinburgh Festival.
A few days to go – look North.
If you’re around in Edinburgh please come along and say hello:
EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL - NEW THEATRE
17th – 25th August.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 at the New Town Theatre
Ticket on sale and can be bought by calling the Box office on 0131 220 0123 or the following links.
Up at 5am. Bus to Hammersmith where there are severe delays on the Piccadilly line. Where’s the limo when you need it? 6am and the platform is heaving with people and luggage. I bet Sting’s not travelling by tube. Advised to get to Acton Town on the next available train. Acton Town is even more packed than Hammersmith. Not a good start. Finally, almost two hours later, we make it to Heathrow, Terminal 1. Meeting the gang at Swiss Air check-in. Terl causes a stir at security when the buttons on his shirt set off the alarm. Nick is travelling light, just a plastic carrier bag containing tin whistle and the pink trousers. A quick coffee and we’re boarding, ready for off. Next stop, Geneva. Everyone reading, snoozing, waiting for the trolley. Clouds below as we cross the Channel. Creamy tea, croissant and swiss chocolate for breakfast. Over Paris… ETA: 11.28am… we begin our descent over Auxerre, a patchwork of field and forest below… we arrive safely (including instruments!), ahead of schedule, and follow the Lake Geneva shoreline to Montreux: The ‘showpiece of the Swiss Riviera’ has been an inspiration to writers, artists and musicians for centuries. Famous one-time residents include Lord Byron, Ernest Hemingway and the Shelleys (!). It’s easy to see why – Montreux not only boasts stunning views of the Alps and the lake, it’s also home to Switzerland's most extraordinary castle, the ever-popular Château de Chillon…. we check in at the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic: Located in central Montreux, with its two-tiered frontage and ranks of bright yellow awnings sheltering the balconies of those rooms looking out over the lake, this historic ‘Belle Epoque’ hotel (built in 1870) is the most atmospheric on the waterfront. Nearby points of interest also include the Freddie Mercury Statue and Montreux Casino. In 1971 Frank Zappa was doing his thing in the casino when the building caught fire, casting a pall of smoke over Lake Geneva and inspiring the members of Deep Purple to pen their classic rock number Smoke on the Water… after a quick shower, we head out for a saunter along the lakeside… amid the tourists and buskers, strollers and roller bladers, clothes stalls, ice-cream parlours and food and drink emporiums. Steamer's on the lake make me think of the old jazz standard:
I cover the waterfront
I'm watching the sea
Will the one I love
Be coming back to me …
At 2.30pm we’re off to the Auditorium Stravinski, a monumental venue with a peerless reputation. Countless legendary artists have performed here, its master stage and hallways echo with the sound of B.B. King, Keith Jarrett, Carlos Santana, Etta James, Leonard Cohen… the ‘Purple One’ was here yesterday, while today we stand in the wings as Sting soundchecks ‘Englishman in New York’, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, David Sancious on keys… then it’s our turn. We have the mighty Terl Bryant on drums and Nick Lacey on keys… the stage crew are marvelous, the best we’ve worked with, and (with Mr Matt Hay on the desk) the sound is incredible… we soundcheck for an hour, enjoying the room and the vibe… then it’s up to the dressing room to chill, eat, laugh. We shake hands and chat with Sting, who wishes us well. Just before we go on I glance up at the TV monitor and, for a second or two, think I’m watching footage of a concert… it suddenly dawns on me that it’s the crowd out front, 4,000 of them, waiting expectantly for the evening to begin… butterflies fluttering, we hit the stage…
July. And so to the first of our trips abroad (the Isle of Wight doesn’t count). Heathrow, Terminal 1, the VIP lounge, en route to Dublin. We’re minus our two ‘Irishmen’, Terl and Nick, who are missing the ‘gig’ due to prior commitments. We miss them but welcome Martin Neil on board (and on drums) for the show. Danica will take on Nick’s penny whistle duties as we are performing ‘All My Sins’ live on ‘Saturday Night With Miriam’ on RTE. On arrival we are whisked from the airport to the historic Shelbourne hotel in the heart of Dublin. The Irish constitution was drafted here in 1922 by Michael Collins, and 1 of only 2 original copies can be found in the hotel. After checking in to our luxurious rooms, we partake of afternoon tea in the lounge bar overlooking St Stephen’s Green. Then it’s off to RTE where everyone is warm and welcoming. Irish eyes are sparkling and the banter is great. We have an hour to rehearse and check the sound before we head back to the hotel and out for an evening meal. I order a glass of Guiness. This is not a pint, the waiter explains, nor a half pint, but about three quarters of a pint. Only in Ireland. The drink originated in the brewery of Arthur Guiness (1725–1803) and is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. 850 million litres are sold annually. The ‘burnt’ flavour is derived from roasted, unmalted barley. and it’s thick, creamy head comes from mixing the beer with nitrogen when poured. Marvellous stuff… and so, back to RTE where our moment came and went in a flash. We retired to the Green Room for wine, nibbles and mingling and watched Elizabeth’s interview on the monitor… the show went well, everyone was happy and wanted to know when we are coming back again … hopefully soon. Sunday morning, a stroll down Grafton Street before breakfast, with the ghosts of Joyce and Kavanagh… poetry and music hanging in the air…
On Raglan Road of an autumn day I saw her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue
I saw the danger and I passed along the enchanted way
And I said let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay
Oh I loved too much and by such by such is happiness thrown away
I gave her gifts of the mind, I gave her the secret signs
Known to the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint I did not stint, I gave her poems to say
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet, I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had loved not as I should a creature made of clay
When the angel woos the clay he'll lose his wings at the dawning of the day
The poem was put to music when the poet, Kavanagh, met Luke Kelly of famous Irish folk band 'The Dubliners', in a Dublin pub called The Bailey. It was set to the music of the traditional song 'The Dawning Of The Day'. Given the similarity in themes and the use of the phrase "dawning of the day", it is quite likely that Kavanagh, from the beginning, imagined the pairing of verse and tune. Kelly himself acknowledges that the song was gifted to him that evening at The Bailey… and so, dreaming and breakfast over, it’s back to the airport for the short hop back to London… memories are made of this. Next up… Montreux!
June. Sadie’s back from LA and we’re leaving London, on the road again. Off to Gloucester Rugby Club where we’re opening for Ronan Keating. Taking the M4, heading west: The ‘M4 corridor’, opened in 1971, was originally known as the London-South Wales Motorway. It’s part of our landscape now, hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t there. Puts me in mind of Gordon Lightfoot’s wonderful ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’, different country, same message:
There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
No mountains in the M4 corridor but this was once a wild and mysterious place…. probably still is if you dig deep enough… asleep behind the shades…. we bypass Swindon and a sign which reads ‘Turnpike Junction’: Swindon lies near a junction of two Roman roads and the four main access roads into the Town were turned into turnpikes between 1751-1775… further on up the road there’s a sign for the Highwayman Inn: the pub was once a highly respected coaching inn which, for four hundred years, served the passing trade going north out of Cirencester on the old Ermin Way towards Gloucester. Ironically, the pub now finds itself removed from the main road, a victim of the bypass… must call in some day. I read somewhere recently that the old English pub names are rapidly disappearing and that, fueled by the morbid obsession with health and hygiene that sanitises everything it touches, it won’t be long before every shop or pub that is small, individual and unique is eradicated…. Olde England…. wildflowers in the meadows and hedgerows… (they need preserving too!) Gloucester Rugby Club, rain, snatches of blue sky. In the dressing room Terl regales us with stories of Japanese massage and we discuss plans for Edinburgh. Played our set to Ronan’s appreciative fans, then back on the road to Portsmouth, next stop Isle Of Wight. Chasing tail lights south, we pass signs for Highclere Castle (wonder if Sadie is tempted to stop off for the night?).
Portsmouth. Wind. Scudding clouds. Stormy weather. Catching the 9am ferry to the festival….
Blustery winds, intermittent blue skies. Backstage we get ten minutes to chill out before being whisked off to the catering tent, where we are told we have the wrong colour tickets! That sorted we eat a hurried lunch while the ladies attend to hair and make-up. The back stage buzz, getting our gear on stage, a last minute line-check and we’re on … One Thing Leads To Another to Use It Up, a short, tight set, getting better every gig we do.
July. The Cornbury Festival, Great Tew, Oxfordshire, a tagline which reads: “A country fair with a rock 'n’ roll twist; a homespun melting pot where music-lovers share pies and a glass of champagne with superstars, toffs, rockers, crooners, Morris dancers”. Sounds good to me… and turns out to be the best fest and, so far, the best weather of the summer. There are yurts and squrts, tipis, podpads, bellepads, and beaupads, circus workshops, an art tent and theatre, yoga sessions, free face painting and a fairground. There is a local farmers market, cupcakes, cucumber sandwiches, strawberries and cream and gallons of Pimms and Champagne, a therapy and massage zone, and for those in need of a laugh, the Absolute Radio Comedy Tent… oh, and the music! We played a longer set than usual, introduced ‘All My Sins’ for the first time and had a fabulous time. Great to see Shelley in the front row and to meet fans afterwards… then a tired drive home in the fading sunlight of a perfect English summer’s day. Thanks to the brilliant crew at Cornbury, to Matt for great sound (as always) and for driving us to and fro, to Barry for getting us organized and making sure everything ran smoothly, and to Ian for his patience and care… a great team!
Back soon with news of Dublin and Montreux.
May. Grey clouds and a hard wind. The coldest Spring for over 50 years. Driving down the A3 to Kipper’s Barn. New strings on the banjo, Patty Griffin on the system. Drums and bass laid down at Terl’s yesterday, we’re en route to Kipper’s to record banjo, guitar, bouzouki and vocals. Nick is ‘flying’ his keyboard parts in from Bounds Green (can’t wait to hear that cool organ vamp we rehearsed at Rob and Joy’s). First up is the banjo, the open-backed, long-neck variety, developed by Pete Seeger and purchased from banjo guru Andy Perkins (www.andybanjo.com). Typically used in American old-time music, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music, before becoming popular in the minstrel shows of the 19th century… after one of Brad’s special lunches: soup, bread, ham, cheese, pickle, flapjacks and tea, banjo and bouzouki parts worked up and laid down, Simon’s heading west on the lap steel. Wild horses can’t hold him back. Further down the highway, Sadie shimmies into the booth and makes the songs her own. Rattlesnakes and lone riders, pretty choristers and lonesome train whistles. Sadie’s world. From the streets of New York City to the Mojave desert.
It may not be the Catskill Mountains but south of the M25, east of the M23, we found our own ‘Big Pink’. A cold, wet morning in April. Coming together to rehearse, record and hang out. Gathering at the farmhouse home of Rob and Joy. Tea, coffee, dogs, great hospitality and bonhomie. Meandering over to the barn for a new way of working, starting with the framework of a new bunch of songs, including a cover of a wonderful Charles Aznavour number. After a warm-up we break for lunch, courtesy of Joy, who makes the best wraps this side of heaven. The afternoon progresses with much laughter and enthusiasm. ‘All My Sins’, ‘Look Now’ and ‘The Times We’ve Known’, Sadie and the band chipping in ideas, working the arrangements, tempo and feel. Three tracks down and recorded, then it’s a photoshoot with the wonderful Kirsty Grant. Costume and make-up (the girls), ribald laughter (usually generated by Terl), Nick looking at his watch (the sun is well over the yard-arm). Then it’s time to pack away. Wine, more laughter, drifting out into the dark, wet night and journeying home. Now, if only all days could be like this…
Friday 15th March. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank, London. This fine example of the massive concrete forms, known in 1960’s Britain as ‘Brutalist Architecture’, hosts daily classical, jazz, folk, avant-garde and dance performances.
Tonight SHH took to the stage with the wonderful Gretchen Peters. After performing a half hour set of our own, then sitting back and enjoying Gretchen’s beautiful songs, we joined Gretchen, Barry and Christine on stage for the Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’.
Keef has said, "If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. ‘Wild Horses’ was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be."
The song has been covered by many, including The Black Crowes, Debbie Harry, Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson, but tonight’s rendition brought to mind (to my mind, at least), that of the legendary Gram Parsons.
Before its release on ‘Sticky Fingers’, Parsons had convinced Jagger and Richards to allow him to record the song with his band, ‘The Flying Burrito Brothers’. While the Stones had already laid the track to tape, the Burrito Brothers' version was actually the first to be released, appearing on their second album, ‘Burrito Deluxe’, in April 1970, one year before ‘Sticky Fingers’.
Tonight, it was Gretchen and Sadie who shared verses while the whole ensemble pitched in on the chorus:
Wild horses, couldn’t drag me away …
Indeed. No-one wanted this night to end (apart from the QEH staff. Ha, ha!)
And so to the last gig of the tour. Picking up Sadie in West London, driving up through Acton, around the North Circular and on to the M1, heading north to Milton Keynes. A bright, sunlit day but very cold. Listening to Gretchen Peters’ wonderful new CD ‘Hello Cruel World’.
The Stables was founded by jazz greats Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine in 1970 in the old stables block in the grounds of their home in Wavendon, a small village on the south-east edge of Milton Keynes. The village name is an Old English language word, and means 'Wafa's hill'. In the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 969 the village was recorded as Wafandun.
Load-in. Soundcheck. Run a few numbers. Tea and sandwiches in the Green Room. Then it’s time to change. Terl, flamboyant as ever, regaling us with more extraordinary tales, Nick donning the pink trousers at the last minute. Then we’re on …
It’s the best selling night of the tour, and our best performance so far. As we drift off stage after the encore, Terl announces “If it was any tighter … it’d be tight!”
Scraping frost off the car. Rolling South on the M1, a detour around the M25 and in on the M40. Home by 1am. Until the next time …
Union Chapel in Islington, north London, designed by James Cubitt and built between 1874 and 1877, is a working church, live entertainment venue and charity drop-in centre for the homeless, which describes itself as "liberal, inclusive, non-hierarchical, and non-conformist". Built in the Gothic revival style, the church hosts live music and comedy events, and was voted London's Best Live Music Venue by readers of Time Out magazine in 2012.
The chapel itself could not be more beautiful. Stunning design, superb acoustics, great atmosphere. The high, high ceilings, stained glass windows, stone arches and pews give it a wonderful, spiritual ambiance, further enhanced by the stage lighting and the array of twinkling tea lights.
Upstairs at the back there is a superb bar, a colourful bohemian lounge of old sofas, candle-lit tables and chairs, where you can have a ‘real’ drink before the gig. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available from a booth downstairs for during the concert.
It is a wonderful place to experience, and perform, live music.
Backstage: a labyrinth of passageways and paneled rooms, very cold on this frosty February night. Standing around the few scattered heaters, we keep ourselves warm with banter, nervous energy and red wine.
Supported, as throughout the tour, by the wonderful ‘Open Road’ and, for the first time tonight, enigmatic songstress Rachel Sage, we took to the pulpit around 9pm. Singing, dancing, juggling, comedy and drama. Not rock, pop, folk, jazz, country, but a little of each. Sadie and the Hotheads. A kind of cool cabaret.