New Orleans – with a touch of Mullen

We (my wife, Dorothy, our cat, Kruimeltje and I) arrived in New Orleans. It was hot and sticky that day, it looked and felt just like I imagined it would (on the way there we’d also visited New Iberia where Tabasco sauce is made and the movie Electric Mist was filmed… so we were well in Louisianna mode). Driving to our RV resort on Lake Pontchartrain we passed over long bridge-roads built over swamplands, then through old neighborhoods and past graveyards. All burials are above ground, so many large creepy vaults, drooping trees and statues provide the ideal location for a voodoo ghost story… or a voodoo doughnut come to think of that!… I haven’t had one of them since Dorothy snagged a couple from the shop along the road the last time I played in Kells Irish pub in Portland, Oregon.

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Michelle, my tour manager, had lined up four gigs for me that week. The Friday and Saturday playing at the Irish House, the Monday playing music for the Irish house Whisky tasting (it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it!) and the following Thursday at the Old Point Bar across the Mississippi in Algiers.

We went along to the Irish House on the Thursday to check it out – the temperature had plummeted and cozy jackets, scarves and hats had to be dug out of the RV wardrobes. The Irish House is on St Charles Avenue which is one of the main streets leading into the French Quarter. There’s also a handy tram which goes past it right to (and from) the French Quarter. It is more of a restaurant with a pub bit – the food was fantastic – the owner, Chef Matt Murphy has won several awards and has made this place an Irish “Gastropub”. The stage was all set in the middle of the side wall with a small Yamaha PA system… (hmmm… thanks, but no, I’ll bring my own). For the rest it looked like a grand place to play, so we finished our drinks (the guinness was excellent) and leaving our truck parked outside, we hopped on a tram to the French quarter to sample the delights of a cold New Orleans afternoon. When we returned hours later, the Irish house had a guy playing mandolin accompanied by a lady playing fiddle downstairs and a sea shanty choir assembling to go upstairs to sing – this was a busy, active place.

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The gig on the Friday was good, every table was full and there was a fine buzz. I played three sets, mixing it all up a bit and knew that the people there had had a good night – I had played well, sold CDs and met some very happy people. On Saturday, the stage had been moved to the bottom of the restaurant facing the tables (instead of in the middle as on Friday) to make a space for a big screen which was showing the local football team’s game which was on while I was playing… sigh, bummer. As it turned out most heads were turned towards me and not the screen (most people there were visiting and not locals) and I was getting a reasonable amount of participation. During one of my songs, I couldn’t believe my eyes as Feargal MacConuladh, my friend from years ago and musical partner in our duo, Keltic Fire, walked in. He now lives in Barcelona, Spain and was over on business. His product, the Minecraft Gameband, had just been released and launched onto shelves in Target all over the USA. Feargal was traveling around meeting with Target people and was heading for Houston, Texas when he saw my Facebook post that I would be in New Orleans, so he headed over to the Irish House. The fact that he had lost his passport in Charlotte airport was a wee bit of a worry – but didn’t stop him!

 

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We had also made friends in the pub with Sally and Brendan Kelley, just visiting from Ohio (we met them on the Thursday and immediately hit it off) and locals Shannon Woodward & her Helicopter pilot husband – Shannon had a great voice and was singing along and harmonizing, Sally and Brendan had been at a 60th birthday earlier that day… so were in “high spirits” 🙂 . Feargal eventually caved in to pressure and played a few songs with me – it wasn’t quite like old times – we were a bit rusty … but still ok. After I finished at around 10:30pm, we had a wee jam session until midnight. We packed up the gear, Dorothy headed off to our RV and Feargal and I headed into New Orleans to catch up, reminisce (over a wee drinkie or two) and have fun. I got home at 4am after Feargal had just plain run out of steam… he was exhausted… as a newt!

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The whisky tasting on the Monday was a fine event, the Glenfiddich rep was there with 5 bottles of different Gelnfiddichs. I played some Scottish songs to get us all in the mood then we started tasting – each whisky had a delicious wee dish of food served with it…. the beauty of a Gastropub ! They served a dainty scotch egg – which was a quail’s egg wrapped in breaded sausage meat – instead of the huge ones we’d get in Dundee (fae big chookie burdies 🙂 ). the Gastro version, I have to say, was a wee bit superior to those I used to eat!

After the tasting there was an Irish music session, I didn’t join in as Dorothy was needing fed 🙂 … so we had dinner there and I got to know Chef Matt Murphy a bit better when he joined us (he’d been playing the bodhran in the music session). Matt is a fascinating character – from Dublin. Feargal and he had spent time on Saturday talking about their home town .. a thickening of accents was noticeable on both of them. He is a champion chef, a well-known New Orleans personality and one of the few survivors of a deadly flesh-eating disease. “Sure, I’m  more famous for surviving the disease than I am for me cooking and me restaurant…. ” he grinned modestly. A fine lad is Matt, he also set me up with a great recommendation “Bill played here last weekend and took the roof off… ” and put me in contact with a friend of his who may book me in Florida next year and a musician friend who has a list of contacts I could use to get some gigs arranged next year. Great stuff!

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On the following Wednesday, Dorothy and I headed over to Algiers to check out the Old Point bar. It was on a road just behind the Levee on the west bank of the Mississippi. An old neighborhood pub which proved once again that you shouldn’t judge on first appearances as it was old and crumbling on the outside but friendly and full of character on the inside. The people were extremely friendly, as were the dogs, it was a wee bit smokey as the smoking ban hadn’t reached there yet and it had a great stage with a very serious sound system – which I would be happy to use the next day. There was music there each evening but Dorothy and I didn’t wait around – we walked along the Levee with beautiful views of New Orleans from across the water and caught the ferry across the Mississippi to the French Quarter – the weather had improved that day and it was a lovely warm late afternoon – perfect for a sunset ferry ride to eat some gumbo, redfish and other Cajun delights.

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The gig on the Thursday was not well publicized. The posters we had sent over two weeks earlier hadn’t arrived or had been lost, there was a local paper and web site which told you what was on and where… but it only had my name, they hadn’t used any publicity materials from my website. As a result it wasn’t busy – but I have to say, those who were there all got into my music quickly and were singing, clapping, harmonizing, joining in and whooping with each song. I met a country singer (great voice) who had played Nashville for two years before giving it up – he told me about his appearance in the Ryman Auditorium – the old Opry, the epicenter of Country music (Dorothy and I were there for a show a few years ago). I could tell that was a memory that would stick with him all his days. There was a steady flow of people either visiting or returning from shenannigans over the water a wee bit the worse for wear. One such person was a nice looking lady with what looked like a colleague as they both had conference ID badges on a string around their necks. As he stood, or rather swayed, at the bar, she danced around the bar and did a pretty good pole dance in front of me using one of the old wooden pillars. She sang, hooted, danced, got everyone going… then sadly, after a while, left, blowing kisses to everyone, hooking her leg around a few last pillars on the way out while guiding her male colleague, who was sinking fast, out of the pub and into the night. I suspect his downfall had been trying to keep up with her 🙂 . I ended at 11pm … then as usual when it’s not been busy, a couple of people rolled in at 11:15 – one had just arrived from the airport – desperate for live music. I played them an acoustic song, they bought me whisky, gave me a tip and everyone was happy. The Old Point bar – a rare, bit tarnished, gem of a pub, well worth a visit if you fancy a Ferry ride and a chat to some of the friendly locals (you won’t find these everywhere in New Orleans).

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Taking a step or two in Texas

Texas … I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to play in Austin, the music capital of Texas, their motto the same as Portland’s “keep Austin weird”  – yes this would be a perfect opportunity. Not so. Austin is full to bursting with musicians, as a result it’s venues are unresponsive, unwelcoming and unwilling to book traveling musicians. For example, the website of BD Rileys states : NOTE: WE BOOK AUSTIN BANDS ONLY. NO OUT OF TOWN ACTS OR BOOKING REQUESTS PLEASE  In an Irish pub which is not in Ireland ? Come on ! Where do they get any outside influence?… Hahaha – I’m sorry – but that is just ridiculous.

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I eventually gave up trying to book anything there. Michelle, my tour manager joined me about then and stepped up to the task… nothing… try again… nothing… “Earth calling Austin… ” nothing. Time was a-drifting by, so we looked south to San Antonio, within a few weeks Michelle had landed 6 gigs in San Antonio – I wouldn’t even have time to visit Austin – we thought we’d have to cancel our RV park booking in Austin… but we didn’t need to as they (unlike every park we contacted) hadn’t replied to our booking request (there’s a theme forming here). We didn’t go to Austin.

We drove through New Mexico, then West Texas and arrived at San Antonio on the Friday. We drove up to the Highlander bar and grill (my gig the next day) just to check out the lie of the land. Turned out to be a good idea – just as the navigation system sent us on a left turn, Dorothy spotted the Highlander bar on the right – ha-ha- gotcha – you can’t fool Dorothy with that northy, southy, easty, westy stuff!

When you’re playing in a venue you play more often, you forget what it was like the 1st time there (where’s the stage, power, lights, do I use their PA system or mine, how good’s the monitor, who’s the contact person, oh, they’re not there tonight – ok, who’s my contact… ) when you’re touring (as I am) every night is your 1st (and probably last) time playing there – and you are John Snow … you know nothing! So it’s good to check the place out beforehand, if you can, so that you can be organized on the day you’re playing – all you have to do is focus on the music and crowd.

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I walked into the Highlander, there was a lady with long auburn hair dressed in tight black clothes, short black shorts, fishnet tights, high heels, ears and whiskers waving at me in her lacy gloves… yes – it was halloween. I looked away from the waving cat and a man with curly white hair and broad grin exclaimed “Bill!!…” He shook my hand laughing and said how delighted I was to meet me – this was Mike Specia, one of the owners of the Highlander.

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The cat appeared at his side, introduced herself to me and gave me a big hug… she worked there – and had put up my posters – which have my picture on them – so she and Mike felt like they knew me already. Dorothy, bemused, was receiving a similar delightfully warm welcome. We talked and laughed, they fed us, our server brought extra food – deep-fried mushrooms – a house speciality we apparently needed to try (even though we were feeling full we tried them – wow… they were great!!!), more beer… man, this was the Texas welcome everyone talks about – and I hadn’t played a note – that would be tomorrow. I hope I would live up to this great treatment.

The next night, Saturday, was great. Quieter than halloween, costumes were back to normal… well, Texan normal… the people there were exceptionally friendly, Mike brought his brothers and their families along, Mike’s business partner (the other owner – an Irishman – McCabe) was there and each song received applause, smiles and appreciation. I was having so much fun, I only took one break and played on to midnight. When I finished, Mike had to leave with his family – but not before he thanked me profusely and made sure we had food to take away with us (I never eat before a gig – so I had (politely) refused when he offered earlier). I went up to the bar for a drink at the end – and got paid for the night without asking  by a beaming female bartender – full of smiles, praise, compliments… and a pint! You can’t ask for better!

On the Monday, I was playing in the Lion and the Rose British pub in Alamo heights, which turned out to be just out of San Antonio city limits – and they were a smoking bar. It was like going back to my old days in the Back-in-Town in the Netherlands cigar and cigarette smoke mingled with the lovely smell of beer and spirits … I have to confess – I love it! It’s how a pub should smell … sorry – maybe it’s nostalgia … but I liked it.

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I got set up on a stage at the side facing the long bar / restaurant area. I started and so did the crowd – people joined in immediately and an Irishman and Welshman at the bar (good start of a joke there) were loving it and whipping up the rest of the folks. I nodded at the bar manager to check if the sound was ok – she jerked her thumbs in the air – great – turn up! That is a first, I have never been asked to get louder – louder I went, on the verge of feedback and blasted my way through the night… great!

On Wednesday I was due to do a whisky tasting at another Lion and Rose…. well the weather intervened and it rained in torrents all Tuesday and Wednesday – that somewhat dampened people’s wish to go out – so the event was cancelled – and I stayed home and dry. Now, this would have been an epic tasting – they wanted to so an introduction tasting (7 whiskies) followed by a blind tasting (4 whiskies) – part of me was glad it was cancelled – but the whisky lover in me forced me to open one of my bottles as a consolation prize (a lovely 18 year old Caol Ila single cask Islay malt from Montgomerie’s (an independent bottler) which I got from “Total Wine” in Phoenix… deee-licious.

On Thursday I got an email via Michelle from the Lion and Rose in the Forum where I was playing that night – she was being asked if I was going to play music as well as do a whisky tasting. Ooops… that’s the only one I hadn’t been in touch with or visited – so I called the manager – a friendly Texan – who had arranged 8 Irish Whiskeys for me to taste and wanted to be sure I was going to play music too in case there was no-one for the tasting. As luck would have it, he’d chosen three of the Jameson whiskies from the Mahers St Patrick’s eve tasting (130 people in a whiskey tasting… that’s really too many) and three bushmills whiskies two of which I had several (serious) encounters with in my youth… then there were two Powers whiskies, one I knew well and the other nobody knew as it was just released in April this year… so I agreed, did a bit of homework and was all set. That evening, I played 30 minutes, gathered the folks together for a tasting where we nosed, tasted, savored, laughed and chatted our way through the eight generous pours of Irish Whiskey. I musht shay, even thow I lykes my Shcottissh whisshkies… hic… I grew quyte paarshaal to the Powers Signature… Irishh Whishkey… who would have thought… hic!

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After the tasting, the tasters staggered back to the bar and I played the rest of my set … and remembered (again) why I drink lightly during a gig… but I managed fine and ended at 10pm in time for the guy who runs the open mic there every week on a Thursday  to take over. Fifteen minutes later, the guy was still not there, the young musicians (about 5 acts) who were to perform were all there all keen to perform. I had started taking down my PA when I thought – hmmm – I should help them out. So I had a word with the manager who assured me this wasn’t my problem, I could just go – I’d done a fine job and she was happy… it was up to me. Well it didn’t feel right to leave these kids with no venue to play, so I set them up to play through my system, then realized that nobody felt they could do the introductions – so I introduced the acts, got them organized, mixed their sound … and we had a ball until it finished at midnight.

The Friday was surreal, I was playing at the Lion and Rose in Sontera. These places are very nice pubs, every one is a different layout and the theme is good food and good drink. In this one there was a pub area, a restaurant area, a sort of sitting about area then a secluded area. I was to play in the sitting about area. I got set up … and still when I started there was only me in the sitting about area. There were people in all the other areas… but only me, and Dorothy as my sole supporter, in the area I was to play in. Those who know me know I like to get people involved right from the start… but, I couldn’t see anyone and they couldn’t see me. After a quick consultation with Dorothy, we decided I should change my set around and as my 1st song I played “Brown eyed girl”. When I get to the chorus I sometimes stop completely and the crowd keeps going with the “sha-la-la-la-la… ” bit which is a surprise and a laugh to them, “gee’s them up” a bit… and let’s me know they’re “in”. I’m playing the song, it sounds good but I’m looking at an empty space in front of me – so I think, “what the hell… I’ll do it …” it came to the chorus, I stopped and voices all over the place were singing “sha-la-la-la-la… “. After that we all laughed, I made fun of us all – them for being an invisible audience and me for being the lonely guy playing in the corridor… A few people came over to join me, a good friend (ex-colleague Marianne Sheeler) arrived from Austin Texas especially to see me, I played and we had fun with my varied physical and virtual audience until I’d played my time. I got lots of compliments and praise… it will remain a weird memory for me…. and a lesson for us all – make the best of what you’re given, put as much energy and effort into every gig… and it will work out fine.

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We left San Antonio on the Sunday, heading through Texas – next Stop – New Orleans.

By the time I get to Phoenix…

Phoenix! We drove down from Flagstaff (an ear-popping 7,000 feet) into Phoenix (2,000 feet) – the City sprawled out huge before us, build up in the middle of the desert with 3 million inhabitants! … the whole of Scotland has 5 million!…and all we needed was a few groups of happy drinkers to come to my gigs – hey – they were there too!

Phoenix is hot – I mean hot, in the middle of the desert… it’s hot, hot nights & roasting hot days – even in October! (the Phoenicians ( 🙂 )told us it was really cooling down!!!) We arrived 2nd October and I was playing 3rd in the Skeptical Chymist (Scottsdale), 4th in Tim Finnegans (Phoenix), 8th in Fibber McGees (Chandler) & 14th in O’Connors (Phoenix) (that last one was sneaked in by Michelle (my tour manager) after badgering the booking person into submission 🙂 … well done you badgerer you 🙂

Who says you don’t get support when you’re on the road? At the Skeptical Chymist, we had our friends the Mathyssen clan – Tina (Oregon), Mary (California), Brian, Jenny, Rose (Phoenix) all out for a good time – to celebrate Tina’s birthday – and who cares about tomorrow… hahahaha – Tina? Jenny?

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Then in Tim Finnegans the gang of Burkes & Johnsons arrived from Washington (via Palm Desert)  … now we didn’t get pictures of them although there were hundreds taken… does this reflect on the outrageous shenanigans that went on… you know, it just may!) They were a great bunch who really boosted the evening – as a consolation prize here are a couple of me 🙂

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and the next day on the golf course with Kevin… that’s stamina!

2014-10-05 13.55.06Fibber McGee’s, Wednesday, midweek, no ready made support imported (apart from Dorothy – who manages it all with a smile!.  It was a small but very appreciative crowd who stayed longer than they intended (it was a school night), bought CDs and had a fine time. The friendly barmaid from Belfast (Joline) was just great.

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Then lastly at O’Connors, a small friendly Irish pub, I met lots of great locals, happy genuine people, not reluctant to give their opinions, very interested in music and my experiences. As a late booking, mid-week, I had low expectations – but this was very nice – a great way to end my time in Phoenix. the Dewey crew from Lake Oswego and Washington also came along (I worked with Shelley for years and played at the wedding of Shelley & Craig’s Daughter Megan (and new Son in Law Sean (who makes incredible dark, potent Quad beer) – I played bagpipes at the end of their ceremony &  a set of their favorites from Mahers for their cocktail hour)  – it was great to have experienced Mahers go-ers in the crowd!

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So summarising my experience of Phoenix, the pubs I played are top Irish pubs, well worth a night or two to discover them. The decor, the ambiance, the drink selection, the food, the service, the staff were all just right –  they fitted the style of the bar – and were high quality. It was a pleasure to play in each of them – they were all different. The customers – a real mixed bag – the simpler the pub the nicer the crowd with more people out to see than to be seen… as opposed to the higher-end pubs. All these pubs are doing their best to promote Irish / Celtic culture – you can help them do that by seeking them out if you are ever in town – there’s a lot to discover and enjoy… and folks, please, when the musician plays a Celtic song – listen & clap… it may be me 🙂

My next Gig is in Sedona – I hope to experience a Vortex or two while I’m there… then next gig stop San Antonio Texas (3 gigs and a whisky tasting in a week!)… Michelle is cracking the whip!

 

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Thaar be Pyraats round tha’ Bend

Getting a tour set up is probably very easy if you are famous, well known, have a great following… but I’ll tell you, when you are unknown entity (like poor wee me) – it’s tough. So after many calls (where nobody calls back) and emails (where you are delighted if you get an answer) I had managed to set up 4 gigs in Arizona … which was great – but none in my 1st real stop Bend, Oregon which was a shame as Bend is a lovely place, full of pubs and breweries … and it was half way to St Patricks day – why didn’t they know they needed me ! 🙂 . I was grumbling about this to Steve Behrens of 67 Music one Friday after a Mahers gig, Steve sympathized and had a couple of suggestions as he used to live in that area. I followed these leads but still no joy.

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The following Friday, Dorothy was driving us back from a Mahers gig when we ground to a halt in a huge traffic jam on the I84. It had been a great night (as usual in Mahers) and we’d stayed a wee bit longer than intended (ok, ok, Dorothy did her best to drag me away from excessive blethering and Guinness… but got distracted by her own bletheryness 🙂 ).. anyway it was after midnight and we were tired and well and truly stuck in traffic. I checked my email on my phone… there was a new mail from a name I didn’t recognize (Sarah Pollock Holmes), so I opened it … it was a hoot, this was Sarah from the Celtic Rock band 5-pint Mary in Bend inviting me to play a guest spot with them on Friday September 19th at a Pirate party – cool – and she’d written the email in Pirate

So… a few weeks later, I’d played my last 2014 gig in Mahers (see my last post or watch the video), had our short trial run trips in the Washington / Portland area and headed down to Bend, our longest drive in “our rig” for a 5-day stay, explore and of course… Pirate Party.

Pirate Party 2014

Bend is a lovely place, we actually stayed in Sisters which is 18 miles north of Bend. Remember in my last post when I mentioned my 12-string Taylor guitar had eaten its way through 3 batteries on my last evening and even at that the internal pickup had given up on my encore (which actually (to my surprise) turned out really well) – I found a music shop which was a Taylor dealer – Music Makers, Dan, the owner, was fantastic – he called Taylor and after a 5 minute call where the Taylor guy had verified that my guitar was under lifetime warranty (even though I’d forgotten to register it 7 years ago… ooops) – he’d agreed to ship everything needed overnight so that Music Makers could fix it.Sweet! They fixed it and all it cost was $15 for a new set of strings, fitted and tuned… fantastic service!

Anyway, we headed along to the Pirate party place on the Thursday as we hadn’t brought any Pirate clothes with us on our trip (how dumb is that 🙂 ?) and they were doing “fittings” the day before… these were serious Pirates! So we met Ivy who was transforming people into Pirates, Dorothy became “buxom Bess” … and she convinced me to wear my Kilt (very piratey apparently 🙂 ).

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On the Friday, we headed over to the Pirate ranch – a large property which had become something out of the Pirates of the Caribbean for the weekend – complete with masted ship and barrels (with beer tap attached!). I sat in with 5-pint Mary playing Bodhran as they are already a pretty tight band… adding someone who is busking through their songs would probably have diminished their sound rather than adding to it. I enjoyed playing bodhran again – and playing in a band again – being non-essential to the sound was also a novelty as normally I am all there is.

When the band stopped for a break, I got my guitar and did some vaguely piratey songs – getting pirates to goo aaaarrrrrr and whoop and join in with gusto was easier than I thought – they were all well in the mood and all fired up by 5-pint Mary’s superior piratey performance. I went down really well, it was a pleasure playing for such an appreciative bunch of scallywags and wenches 🙂

See my piratey bit here

5-pint Mary rounded off the night, I joined them again for part of the set and we ended the night well… aaaaarrrr! So with lots of happy pirate handshakes, hugs and sharings of rums (and of course some whisky), we headed off back up the road to Sisters – with promises of a repeat performance next year and a bunch of new friends… especially 5-pint Mary – a great band, great musicians – and most importantly – great people who love what they do.

Watch the pirates live stream here (ok, it was live then… and you may have to look through the clips as it has no definite address – it’s about 1hour 32 mins)

For the next two weeks we become explorers around Boise, Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, Utah… and getting ready for my next performances – Friday 3rd October in Scottsdale, AZ at the Skeptical Chymist, Saturday 4th Oct in Tim Finnegans, Phoenix, AZ, then Wednesday 8th Oct in Fibber McGees in Chandler, AZ… should be fun – watch for my next post to see if it was!

Taking the High Road…

We did it! … 2nd week September on the Monday we had packed up our house and had it moved into storage (Willamette Valley moving company were absolutely superb!). On the Tuesday we moved the stuff we will need for the next year into our 5th wheel which was in storage and headed off to the Roamers Rest, an RV park on the Tualatin river (where we had spent many a happy day Kayaking over the years). The change from 3 bedroom luxury house to a 5th wheel (even though it’s a nice one) was a shock to our systems Big_Hug

The whirlwind of chaos that followed (and the sneaky Birthday Party for Chris Hatzi – all secretly orchestrated by his lovely wife Ellie) … and an overnight in the Paramount hotel, Portland (while the RV had an overnight in Curtis repair shop to fix a couple of last minute things) ran away will the time and before I knew it I was headed to Mahers with Dorothy in our truck to play my last Lake Oswego gig in Mahers Irish pub. See the video here  When I think back to my first appearance in Mahers five years ago, I did it more to get Dave & Mark Maher off my back than anything (they are persistent feckers!). I could only confidently  remember the words to 8 songs – which I played. Little Mahers (as we now fondly called it) was really pretty small, there must have been around 10 people in – and still I was nervous getting up there to play. The songs went down great, I loved doing it and I had the realization that I could actually become a solo performer – I just never had the confidence to do it before.  On Friday 12th September 2014, I took to the stage, no nerves, fully confident, a crowd of over 100 people crammed in, lots of experience playing in pubs, parties, festivals… I had come a long way – and these people had all come to see / hear me . The crowd was tremendous, they were clapping and joining in from the 1st song. I let them sing a full chorus of “the piper o’ Dundee” on their own – a song which I know none of them knew before I started playing it there. Lynn who now works on the admin side of Mahers, I know her as one of the Mahers Irish Dancer’s mums who used to organize the Celtic Christmas events we had, baked me a cake with a tartan base, guitars around the middle and a dozen conflicting signposts on top (as Gabrielle Maher joked… I don’t have a feckin’ clue where I’m headed) They gave me a whisky (Macallans 12 year old – nice!) and drank a toast to Dorothy and I. Mahersand cake

It was great to see so many good friends there and people who had helped me get my act in gear – Steve & Cathi (from 67 Music who do a great job of promoting Celtic music in the Pacific Northwest) (with lovely party ballons too!), Kevin Nettleingham from Nettleingham audio who recorded my CD, Dorothy who puts up with me and many, many more. In my extended break (thanks to Jack the server for filling in for me) I tried to get around as many people as I could to say hello and goodbye… and maybe managed a third of those who came to see me (apologies if you were there and I missed you!) When I got to the last song – I got a standing ovation… that is a really nice feeling… it was wonderful. They of course wanted one more song… which is not allowed in Lake Oswego after 10pm… as if by magic, my guitar pickup stopped working (it was on it’s 3rd battery of the evening… yes there was something wrong with it)  and I sang the proclaimers song 500 miles with my guitar unplugged. It was magical. I sang the verses and everyone… and I mean everyone sang the choruses. When the song was over, there were cheers, hugs, thank-yous, more hugs and then it was all over… well apart from another 2 hours chatting, laughing and drinking!… The last Mahers gig of 2014 was over… it was time to take the high road! See the Sept 12 Mahers video here 

Newport Celtic Festival, Oregon

Celtic festivals – now there’s the thing. Playing in pubs – I can do that and its fun, it’s become my bread and butter – but what about a Celtic festival – there’s much less beer, far more listening and way more Celtic! Ok – I can do that – how do you get in? Steve Behrens’ list told me who I needed to contact for the Newport Celtic Festival, Oregon, I checked their website and bingo! The entry deadline was two days away! Timing is everything. I filled in the (pretty big and thorough) application and sent it in.

I got accepted. Nice! June 14th & 15th wasn’t long in arriving, however by this time my “gig until you drop” strategy (see last blog post) was in full swing and I was also committed to play at Mahers in Lake Oswego on Friday June 13th. Lake Oswego is 3hours drive from Newport which is on the Oregon coast. I also received the band schedule from Newport – I was playing at 10am on Saturday. Hmm, it was getting harder – no worries – a call to the Comfort Inn in Newport (thanks Dorothy) – they could take us in at any time of the night – ok we had a bed.  At Mahers in Lake Oswego, when its nice I play on their lovely outdoors patio from 7pm to 10pm -we’d be on the road by 10:30pm. Then the weather turned. I played inside the pub from 8:30 to 11:30pm and was on the road after midnight.

sloth

Four hours sleep, 4 mugs of throat-coat tea (one before bed), severe tooth brushing with listerine involved, several Halls mentholyptus lozenges and a piping hot shower revived my voice enough to know that I could sing again (with a few wee yodels thrown in free). We arrived at the festival as everyone was loading in, so surrounded by tartans, pies, wolfhounds, heiland coos, swords and all things Celtic, we found the music stage. I had brought my sound system as we didn’t know what equipment was laid on. Wow… the music crew were in the process of clicking together an enormous professional PA system. This was a serious scaffold around the stage dripping with speakers on each side and enormous bass bins (big speakers) on the ground which reached to the stage. Four large stage monitors in front of you… no, I didn’t need my sound system – this was a very nice setup.

clans

The event started with a march of the clans. There are official clan organizations who attend these events, sign up people who have discovered they have ancestral ties to that clan and stimulate people’s knowledge and enthusiasm for their roots. They have researched their family history and (generally) they do know their stuff. By 10am the weather was warming up, people had arrived, the organizer appeared on the stage and introduced me. This was it.

The stage was pretty big, the seats in front of the stage were quite far away – there were people sitting there – looking expectantly. This was totally different from my beer swilling, happy singing crowd from the previous night in Mahers pub… there people were… sober!

meagain

Happily – the bond that joined us all – the love of Scottish and Irish music was soon formed. The crowd clapped when I wanted them to, they sang when I wanted them, they listened intently… and applauded enthusiastically when I finished each song (that was a relief!). The sound system was cranking out the decibels and I told stories as I diligently kept my guitars in tune – outside gigs in damp, warm climates play havoc with your strings – I  managed pretty well, I just had to remember to keep checking and fine-tuning, normally tuning’s not much of an issue.

The songs flew by as did the time, I felt pretty good on the stage – I did once experience what my daughter Valerie describes as “octopus arm”, she is learning to play the guitar and occasionally loses control of her strumming arm (making it feel like it’s an octopus’s… and not yours!). I now know its caused by overthinking. On stage, my songs almost play themselves these days, I just have to add enthusiasm, energy and keep an eye on what I’m up to  – but when you start thinking too much about what any one part of you is doing… you’re asking for a dose of octopus arm! So Beware! I reached the end of my set and was really happy to see a few wee groups of people heading over to the CD buying table – great! After some CD sales I headed over to the pretty impressive merchandising tent run by 1916, the headline band for the festival. We got talking, they liked my set, they had some whiskey, I had some whisky… one thing led to another… we hit it off really well.

By evening, the day was done, we’d all performed well, Dorothy and I had sneaked an hour’s sleep in the afternoon – then we met up with Steve and Cathi Behrens – it was great to see them and even greater when they treated us to dinner in Newport! After 9pm there was a fine old Celtic session in the Irish pub in Newport – most of the musicians and dancers were there. This was a ton of fun… and the guinness was slipping down well!

session

… and of course – there’s no show without Punch… watch Rothsey-O here

On Sunday I was on at 11:15am… shower, throat coat tea, Halls mentholyptus, listerene… I was getting good at this early morning gigging thing. I played again in the afternoon – all went well, crowd was great, CDs sold and I was happy – this was a fine couple of days.

The largest crowd of the day formed in front of the dance stage, what was this, the headline band, the top dancers, pipers, battle of the bands, massed pipe and drums??? … no – the fashion show. You have no idea how “appealing” Celtic dress can be (to the males especially)… they did a fantastic show – and as long as I have lived in Scotland – I never saw Celtic dress look so good! This was an eye-opener for sure 🙂

fashion

We headed home Sunday late afternoon to celebrate Fathers day (which was lovely) and I went to bed late, tired … and happy – Newport Festival, Oregon coast – check it out next year – it is a lovely place, very nice event with very welcoming people. You’ll love it!