Friday, 18 May 2018

All Tours Start In Toronto

All tours start in Toronto. At least my last lot of touring before this lot started in Toronto. I remember it well - the agonizing panic of not knowing what the hell I was going to play, the wishing I written some half decent songs instead of frittering my life away in some adverse build up to this one great moment of failure...
In the end it went well, but then it usually does because it doesn’t really have much choice. It somehow has to because I couldn’t live with myself if it didn’t.
This time the touring part of the tour actually started in Toronto. But even though I find the whole idea of playing locally utterly terrifying, the prospect of setting off to play fifteen shows across the un-United States without first checking that both me and the equipment are going to work seemed much worse, so I kicked things off a few days earlier at the Hilo, our wonderful cafe bar here in Catskill.
Normally I have a psychological safety net: if this thing fucks up, if I humiliate myself with a dismal and disastrous performance it’s ok because this town, this venue, these people, will all be history one hundred miles down the road, and I need never go back. Out of sight, out of mind.
But not so with the local gig.
It went well which is fortunate because I come here for my espresso every othe day (alternating with Supernatural in Hudson). If it hadn’t I think I would have cancelled the tour and moved house instead.
I made one major change: I was using my modified Telecaster for the electric guitar bits, the one I used on the last lot of touring. After the Hilo I decided to take the big green Microfrets instead, and that’s what I’ve been playing since Toronto. The Microfrets is a scary proposition, I once gave it to Amy to play when she broke a string . She handed it back within th tears in her eyes:
‘How do you play this thing?’
I played a show in Seattle a few years back with various members of the Minus 5 including Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck. When the Microfrets broke a string Peter offered to change it while I played a different guitar. He never came back. We found him in the dressing room with the Microfrets on his lap still minus one string. He had tears in his eyes:
‘How do you string this thing?’
The strings are unevenly spaced, the top string often goes dead and produces a blick blick sound and sometimes it gets caught under one of the back pick up screws and goes plink plink. The bottom string needs constant attention because of the ludicrous tune-o-matic nut, an invention designed to ensure perfect intonation regardless of the fact that a barre chord instantly negates the entire concept. I tried taking it off and replacing it with a conventional nut but it didn’t sound the same so I put it back and resigned myself to constant maintenance. It has a tendency to vibrate loose and occasionally something falls apart - usually minutes before a live radio show - but it’s worth it because nothing sounds quite like the big green guitar, the Microfrets, or The Melon as a friend of mine once christened it.

And of course it won’t have escaped the attention of anyone with an eye for detail that the Microfrets matches the green of my new album cover. It’s all in the detail.
That was a freaky business. A friend of mine, Clif Eddens runs a neon factory. He kept telling me I should come and make a neon something and the idea really appealed to me so when it came to making the artwork for Construction Time & Demolition it was the obvious thing to do - a big, randomly shaped green neon illuminating a strange collection of paintings and paraphernalia including my friend John Foster’s old wooden step ladder and (if you look very carefully) his black 1970’s dial telephone.
I assembled the whole thing in the basement of John Foster’s house down in Maryland. John photographed the installation and turned it into the cover art. We spent five hours in the basement bathed in the green nuclear neon glow, and when we came out everything was pink. The sun was going down and we rushed outside to marvel at the cosmically over-pink sunset. John’s sixteen year old daughter looked at the two of us and asked if this was what taking acid was like. We told her it very likely was but we couldn’t say for sure.

At the first show, in Toronto, audience members were perturbed by the minimal set up and several of them asked the promoter where the band was. Fortunately there were no complaints by the end. It’s a different experience - it transcends the solo/duo/full band nonsense. I hate the term full band. I’ve spent years combatting the idiotic dictate that goes something like if it’s this good solo imagine what it’ll be like with a full band... It doesn’t always follow - some artists can’t bring it on without back up, others can. You have to adjust the dynamic to play solo - you can’t get as loud or as full but you can go lower. Sometimes when I’m singing I’m not actually playing anything much at all, just the odd single note here and then so that when I play a full chord it sounds big by comparison. It’s an illusion and it requires a great deal of concentration to pull it off which is why I’ve always got pissed off when there’s talking in the audience while I’m playing. Not that there is anymore - sometimes the silence is quite eerie. It’s intimate and it’s dangerous, tenuous - it could all just come apart...

The sound engineer in Toronto reminded me that we’d met before - he played drums for Andre Williams on a UK tour and when they came to Brighton I did their sound. I tried not to look worried as I asked him how it was but I was relieved when he told me they’d heard a recording of the show made by someone in the audience and it had sounded great. And that night he did the same for me.
I don’t know how I got through the first few days. Toronto to Detroit was a fairly easy drive though it rained and I felt tired. At the border most of the gates were closed. A big sign said Welcome To The United States and underneath a row of illuminated signs said CLOSED.

Third Man Records in Detroit was everything I hoped it would be and the show was good but difficult for me because of an annoying twit at the front who kept holding his phone next to the power block in my pedalboard and filming my foot while the phone transmitted massive interference into my amp. In between and in the quiet bits he shouted requests and suggestions and turning around to take selfies with me in the background. 
John Krautner opened the show alone with nothing more than a nylon strung guitar with a microphone in front of it. The twit joined in loudly with bad harmonies. John told me afterwards the guy had been annoying.
After the show he cornered me (the twit that is) and told me he was my biggest fan. I remonstrated with him, said his behaviour was disruptive. He told me I was being a dick. 
A perfect Wow & Flutter moment.

Most of the time I feel like I’m just about getting away with it - it’s a shabby old one man operation, a patched-up, mend and make do traveling fairground. I should make my entrance in a cloud of diesel fumes and electrical sparks, I probably do, and most nights something needs repairing.
The rain started after the show in Chicago. I had to drive to Louisville, Kentucky, and be there in time for a radio show at lunchtime the following day. I had the best show I’ve ever had in Chicago and by the time I left the Burlington Bar it was already the following day, two in the morning. I had a hotel booked in Lafayette, Indiana, a couple of hours down the road. I thought it would get me out of Chicago, give me a head start the next day.
I’d forgotten how bad the roads are in Indiana. After a four and a half hour white knuckle drive through road works and torrential rain I checked into the hotel in full daylight. The desk clerk told me to enjoy my nap. I crashed out fully clothed for three hours, got back in the car and carried on driving - eighty miles an hour on Indiana’s broken roads, all the way to the Kentucky state line. That sounds quite glamorous. I stopped at Starbuck’s for breakfast.

I can’t recount all the steps that brought me from Indiana to a Premier Inn in Worcester in the heart of middle England where I’m seeing in my sixty fourth birthday. I’m amazed that I’ve got away with it for all these years, burning down city after city as Amy put it the other day. If you’re around I’ll see you in Bristol for my birthday, or Leeds, or Cromer... or maybe Cambridge or Brighton... And most definitely at the 100 Club on May 24th (that’s next Thursday - stick it in your diary) or if you can’t make that then Colchester, Ramsgate or Leicester. 
Always playing in a town near you!

And next month back in the USA for another six weeks or so, coast to coast!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

And Introducing Bryce McCafferty...

I should be strutting about in a fur hat, large mirrored shades and possibly a cloak - a pop svengali, top producer and engineer with a sound coveted by many and achieved by none - because I'm the man who produced and engineered the new Amy Rigby album, a rough, tough psychedelic garage record, her first solo album in twelve years, and her best yet.

But I couldn't really carry it off - my head would itch in the fur hat, the mirrored shades would be covered in fingerprints, and even though I might quite like it I'd feel ridiculous wearing a cloak. So instead I've cast myself in dual roles as Bryce McCafferty, the dependable but tempermental bass playing sideman, and as Amy's erstwhile road manager who I imagine as a sort of Jon Voight character - buckskin jacket, silk scarf, cowboy boots, and a good foot or so taller than myself.

I set the stage, switch on the amps, tune up the twelve string, put the capo on the second fret and report back to Ms Rigby that all is ready. Then I walk back on as Bryce McCafferty and pick up the bass guitar.

Bryce doesn't give a fuck. He's the king of crass. He watches as another more willing band member backs the truck into a bollard or a low brick wall: 'Oooh! I saw that coming - bang goes the deposit!'

A guitar goes missing: '...yeah, I saw that in the dressing room as we were leaving last night and sort of wondered about it.'

'I'm not setting foot on that stage until I get my per diem - I'll do the soundcheck but there's no way I'm going on for the show until I get paid.'

The band leaves the stage with the applause still ringing. Band members metaphorically patting themselves and each other on the back, saying the dumb things that euphoric band members are apt to say. But not Bryce - Bryce is too cool for that - 'Here, did you get your per diem yet? I still didn't get mine...'

Bryce on the right wondering where his per diem went. With Ms Rigby and the gainfully employed Jeremy Grites
Bryce... at turns scruffy, unshaven, abstracted or satorially elegent. Reprehensible but quietly dependable, even when he's drunk. A Thursday gig might see him in grubby jeans, Saturday nights find him fully suited and booted.

Bryce turns and looks at the drummer: 'Who is it this week then? Have we worked together before?'

On this tour Ms Rigby is going through more drummers than Spinal Tap - there's nothing dark or lurid about it, it's just that unlike Bryce they all have day jobs.

'Ground rules, there have to be ground rules...'

I love Bryce McCafferty! I only invented him because promoters were announcing me as a featured musician on Amy's shows, and although I find that very flattering I was worried that it might take the heat off when I come back and do my own shows next month. Because next month I'll have a new album out and I'll be back to boring old me.

I'm going to miss Brycey.

pre-order the new Wreckless Eric album from Amazon

Catch Bryce McCafferty and a gainfully employed drummer on tour with the incomparable Amy Rigby:

08 NEWHAVEN CT Cafe Nine
10 NORTHAMPTON MA The Parlor Room
15 VIENNA VA Jammin Java
18 CHARLESTON WV Culture Center Theater
25 HULL UK O'Riley's
26 MANCHESTER UK BBC 6 Music Marc Riley Show
27 BRIGHTON UK Prince Albert
28 LEICESTER UK Musician
29 BRISTOL UK Thunderbolt
30 LONDON UK Betsey Trotwood

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Not Celebrating Presidents Day

I was on the phone to my mother - they had to put her in a wheelchair and install her in the office to take the call.

'I'm not surprised we're in such a mess - the most powerful nation in the world is being run from this office and it's full of old toffee tins.'

It's Presidents Day and there's a moron in the White House, an old toffee that's got loose from the rest of the tin. Not much to celebrate there. I imagine the cunt will be spending the day at Mar-a-Lago, playing a round of golf in a soggy adult diaper.

Amy's not celebrating Presidents Day by playing some tunes on WFMU.

Plenty to celebrate there - her new album The Old Guys is out at the end of the week and it's already getting unprecedented revues and airplay. She says she hasn't sensed such a buzz about a new Amy Rigby album since Diary Of A Mod Housewife.

I feel proud of her. And proud of me too because I engineered and produced the new record. I gave her a garage band edge and helped put a tougher frame around the mature, contemporary version of a unique and timeless songwriter. Her past five albums are a hard act to follow and I took the responsibility very seriously.

And there I go, making it all about me - I could be the President.

Her tour starts on Friday so we've been rehearsing. There are four different drummers involved so it's a little confusing. It's one drummer per night, not some Allman Brothers spectacular, apart from a couple of nights when she's more or less solo with a bit of bass and guitar playing assistance from the chauffeur. And the Omnichord - mustn't forget that - I'm playing the Omnichord too. I reckon this addition lifts me into multi-instrumentalist / utility man status.

And there I go again - it's all about me. Again. I could write speeches for the President.

I've just decided to do Amy's tour under the name Brice McCafferty because promoters keep announcing me as some kind of feature which is somewhat insulting to Amy because she certainly doesn't need a feature to prop her up. I'm going to wear a suit and keep a low profile. And be very afraid because one of the drummers is Steve Goulding, the man who played drums on Whole Wide World. 

I hope I'm up to it.

But there's no room for self doubt, it's Presidents Day after all, and as Amy's about to tell you on WFMU, The President Can't Read. It hasn't stopped him though. It just goes to show - any cunt born in this great land can become The President Of The United States Of America.

Go fuck yourself Donald Trump - heart attack on the golf course please, and die crapping your diaper.

Let's hear it for The Old Guys!

AMY RIGBY tour dates:

23 HUDSON NY The Spotty Dog
24 BROOKLYN NY El Cortez
28 HARRISBURG PA Note Bistro & Wine Bar

03 PHILADELPHIA Dawson Street Pub
04 CAMBRIDGE MA Atwood's Tavern
09 NEW HAVEN CT Cafe Nine
10 NORTHAMPTON MA The Parlor Room
15 VIENNA VA Jammin Java
18 CHARLESTON WV Culture Center Theater
25 HULL O'Riley's
26 BBC 6 MUSIC The Marc Riley Show
27 BRIGHTON Prince Albert
28 LEICESTER Musician
29 BRISTOL Thunderbolt
30 LONDON Betsy Trotwood

Saturday, 3 February 2018

It's a Long Way To Come For a Cheap Laugh

'It was Amy's birthday at the weekend.'

'Oh heck, I missed it. Again.'

'When we go out to the shops we'll have to get her something - I've got that packet of sandwiches but I think this calls for something bigger.'

'I'll just get up and we can be off out.'

It's like trying to contain a mountain goat in a playpen except the playpen is a hospital bed with the sides up and the mountain goat is my mother in a nightie.

There's been a spillage. When I get there she lying in sodden sheets. A nurse is just about to change the bed. She knocked over a cup of water. 

'The trouble is every time I laugh I leak - you surely didn't think this was all tap water did you?'
'I appreciate you being here but it's a long way to come for a cheap laugh.'

'I'm not poor - make no mistake, I don't have to live like this - it's art. It's an art project.' She waves a hand in an imperious gesture at the row of beds, each containing an old lady in a varying level of sickness. 'Most of these people' she explains 'are dummies.'

She wants me to take her home. I manage to persuade her to stay in the hospital, but somehow along the route of persuasion she gets the idea that I'm staying too, so she calls a nurse over:

'We need two single beds, side by side, so that we can watch television together and discuss what we've seen. Can you fix this?'

A nurse comes with the ward's cordless phone. Her sister, my aunt, is calling. She agrees to take the call and then carefully explains that her and I are going into business together because she's designed a shopping mall.

'I'm here now. It's in the very far reaches of West Hove. If you want in you're probably too late, but that's the story of your life.'

Some of this is the product of a disarranged mind - a highly creative and intelligent woman amusing herself in the tedious lilac corner of a hospital ward where she's been for too long. 

And some of this is indeed an art project.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Please Stop The Fucking Cavalry

One of the things I dislike most about Christmas is hearing Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie. America doesn't have this particular scourge but the UK is full of it. Every shopping centre, every motorway services - I even switched on the car radio and there it was in all its joyous jollity.

We've come over to England to spend Christmas with my mother. But she's in the hospital again - another fall. I seem to have spent most of my time since I got here talking to care agencies, social workers, nurses and physiotherapists, using my best efforts to get her out in time for Christmas.

'I'm coming home with you.'
', I'm afraid you have to stay here for the moment but we're working on getting you out as soon as possible.'
'Why can't I come home now?'
Lies, half truths, this feeling that we've somehow let her down as she accepts the situation yet again.
'Where will I sleep?'
She looks anxiously around. Her face lightens up -
'There's a bed here,' she says, indicating her own bed. 'I could sleep here.'

The physiotherapist looks busy, doesn't make eye contact, ducks out of the ward in a flurry of goodbyes - have a great holiday! She won't be back until after Christmas. Without her consent my mother's home care won't be reinstated so she's going nowhere. She's spending Christmas in the hospital and I've got to try and explain it to her.

Even though life reaches its inevitable conclusion nothing prepares us for old age, deterioration and death. Some of us spend our lives sneering at it, not putting anything away for retirement, as though treating it with disdain might somehow stave it off. I'm one of those people, and even now I'm trying to shut out a whisper somewhere in the back of my mind: You're Next...

Getting old is a frustrating and infuriating business. You go through life gathering experience and wisdom until you reach an age when you no longer have the energy to put any of it to use. It leaves you in rages of impotent fury at the the idiocies of the younger and more vital - the ones in charge, ignorant, semi-capable at best, but driven.

It would be far better to start out with all that wisdom and experience and gradually lose it. Old age, middle-age even, would be far more bearable - just give me a Gameboy, a bowl of Cheerio's and I'll be, like... yeah - whatever...

Oh for the Gift Of Stupidity! I could be so happy plodding along, cluttering up some shopping centre, inanely singing along to the brass band on Stop The Cavalry, celebrating Christmas because that's what you do, eating my way to diabetes and an early death. 

As it is some nights I'm practically howling at the moon.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Belfast, The Hardboard Hotel, A Spider From Mars

I was on an airplane. I was in a rental car driving very fast. I was on a ferry crossing from Stranraer in Scotland to Belfast in Northern Ireland. I was in a hotel in Belfast - the Europa Hotel - the same hotel I stayed in the first time I came to Ireland back in 1978. 
The Europa Hotel is a four star dump, less salubrious than I remember from the first time I stayed in it though it's no longer surrounded by barbed wire. It was known during the troubles as the Hardboard Hotel because the windows were frequently blown out by bombings. It's on record as being the most bombed hotel in Europe having survived thirty six bombing attacks. I've been told there's an old commercial hotel somewhere in Belfast that suffered more bombings but the Europa Hotel is much more high profile so it carries away the glittering but dubious prize.
My room was on the sixth floor. It was small and over furnished - a desk, a round table, an office chair, a small armchair, a wardrobe and a double bed. A frosted glass door lead to a tiny bathroom with a toilet, shower and washbasin, and a collection of clammy white towels. The window looked out onto a grey wall and if I sat on the desk and looked across at an acute angle and downwards I could see the loading door of the Belfast Opera House.
I don't think this was the room the Clintons stayed in back in November 1995.
I played in a place called the Black box. I had no idea what it was going to be like but it was a pleasant surprise. Amy and I played there a few years ago. I had flu at the time and some of the audience were old timers who thought I was there to recreate 1978 for them. Some of them turned up again this time but I was on top of it, and anyway they were outnumbered.
My show was in the afternoon and afterwards Woody Woodmansey was doing an In Conversation thing. I felt a strange panic rising up. I wanted to get out before he arrived. He played the drums on some of my all time favourite records. 
I'm not much for meeting celebrities and musical heroes unless they know who I am and what I do and we can meet on an equal footing. Otherwise I'm just some nerdy bloke trying not to ask a load of dumb questions. 
I don't know why I worry about that, I've meet plenty of nerdy blokes who ask what they probably think are dumb questions and I love them for it. They're fans, they're into what I do, they're interested, they support me and help keep me going.
What I'm trying to say is I didn't want Woody Woodmansey to be an arsehole, and if he was I didn't want to find out about it. I thought it might be better if he remained intact, a concept, the last surviving Spider From Mars.
I didn't make it out in time. the promoter was suddenly at my side:
'Eric, I'd like to introduce you to Woody - Woody this is Eric...'
He was a perfectly approachable looking Yorkshire sort of bloke. We shook hands.
'Did you really live in Woodmansey?' I heard myself say, while some other version of me standing off to the side shouted YOU FUCKING TWAT! at me through cupped hands.
'Er, well, yeah, for a bit'
'I used to live in Hull' I offered, by way of an explanation.
'I know you did' he said.
We had a talk about Hull, who's left , what a special place it is. I stayed for his talk and it was absolutely riveting. I didn't join the queue to buy his book, I'll buy it and enjoy it when I get home rather than lug it around with me, fall asleep over it and forget where I'm up to. I know it's going to be good. 
I met him and his wife again outside, smoking cigarettes. I thanked him for the talk and we discussed the vagaries of touring. He wished me the very best of luck. They were nice people. 
I went back to the hotel and watched an episode of Last Tango In Halifax.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Another Cheery Story about Another Squalid Hotel

Last week when I had to drive to Stranraer to catch a ferry to play in Belfast a friend booked me a fantastic country hotel in the wilds of Lancashire through Hotels.Com. It was a luxury suite - more like an apartment - and it was only £40 for the night. I'm usually all about Premier Inns - they're very unexciting but at least they're consistant and there isn't a nosey old git in a sleeveless V neck pullover hanging out in the basement dining room, diluting pineapple juice behind a reeded hardboard partition.
As I had a night off tonight followed by a show in Barnoldswick which is itself in the wilds of Lancashire I thought I'd give a go myself. The hotels were all a lot more than £40 a night, apart from a few that were basically rooms above pubs but I decided to splash out on somewhere nice to hole up for a couple of days. I found one in Skipton that I thought would be perfect.
The entrance was very smart with its canopy that had HOTEL picked out in lights you could see a mile off down the road. Any effect of grandeur was lost because the building looked like an ex-hospital/mental institution/rope factory/gunpowder factory/barracks or workhouse.
I could smell the deoderisers as soon as I walked in. The man at the desk was having an overlong phone conversation with a future guest:
Yes, yes...yes that room will be available....yes...the duration of your stay... with full leisure centre access....yes, yes it has been...for the time of year...mmm, yes, they should do, yes indeed...yes...yes, looking forward to seeing you on the 15th....mmm, yes...yes, and you too....yes...
He didn't acknowledge my presence until he eventually got off the phone and we got down to business. No apology for keeping me waiting. I didn't mind waiting but front desk etiquette demands an apology to which guest etiquette demands a not-at-all brush-off. There's a system in place, an accepted order of things.
Have you stayed with us before sir?
No, I usually stay at the Premier Inn. (I don't know why I said that)
Why would you do that when you could stay here?

The room was long and narrow with one double bed, two bedside cabinets and a two-seater settee that was probably a sofa bed though I was too squeamish to investigate. There was a line of cabinets with drawers, a flat screen TV and a tea making station, all bunched up at one end of the room, and beyond was a large expanse of mauve carpet running out to the badlands somewhere beyond, over towards the window. A  trouserpress come ironing board configuration was screwed to the wall under a bad painting of a hyacinth with a decorative brass striplight over it to perhaps facilitate closer study of the brushwork.
The person who furnished this room had obviously run out of either ideas or furniture or both. There was a strong smell, some sort of deoderiser - the stuff that brings the carpet back after the incontinent dog dies on it. A strange smell, chemical lavender with sour undertones masking something infinitely more unpleasant but possibly by comparison much more wholesome.
I sat on the sofa, much like I imagine a normal person might, and tried to get on with answering an email or two. The wi-fi kept cutting out. I realised I was cold so I went to investigate the heating. The thermostat was old, seventies, possibly early eighties. A grubby set of instructions was glued to the wall underneath. I read the instructions, switched on and cold air billowed into the room along with a faint aroma of old cooking oil. I turned the heating control up full. 
Ten minutes later the room was icy.

I went down to reception to complain. I could have phoned but I wanted to get out of the room because apart from being freezing cold it was starting to give me the creeps.
Down in reception a notice by the phone on the unattended desk told me to dial zero. I explained myself to a man who was very sympathetic and suddenly appeared, bounding down the palatial staircase and talking to me on a cordless phone.
He was a faintly ratty individual, a young man dressed in black with facial hair and a ponytail. He said that as the hotel wasn't fully booked he could find me a room on a different floor where the heating worked. We settled on floor number three and he took me up to see the room. It was horrible but it was warm. He agreed with me that the hotel was a dump and volunteered that considering the state of the place it was way over-priced.
I asked him what it was like working there at night. He paused for a moment, looked around furtively:
'The night brings out all the crazies' he said.
'Some of them answer the door naked - room service...'
'Have you ever had anyone die?' I asked.
'Just the one since I've been here but yeah, it does happen.'
'One night a couple in the honeymoon suite rang down for champagne and strawberries. I went up with the order and the woman answered the door completely naked. He was sitting in the jacuzzi. "My husband likes to watch" she said'
He did a quick glance around, lowered his voice:
'Four hours, I were in there for four hours.'

My new room was warm but in every other respect it was worse than the old room - a kingsize mattress balanced on two single bed bases next to a single bed, and next to that where the bedside table would normally be an ancient trouserpress. The room smelled faintly of airlessness and squalor. This was the family, or threesome room - plenty of room for action on the kingsize bed and afterwards the third wheel can sleep over on the single bed next to the trouserpress.

Or the son or daughter could sleep grimly on the single while the parents sit at the table and play cards before retiring to the kingsize where there's plenty of room to sleep in their pyjamas, out of touching distance from each other.
Myself I slept fully clothed on one side of the big bed.
I checked out in the morning. The duty manager was quite snippy about it: 'I'm sorry you don't like our facilities Mr Goulden.'
'What facilities? Are you talking about the trouserpress?'

I checked into a brand new Premier Inn and slept all day in glorious comfort.