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!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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… 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 🙂

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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!