Fri., August 24th to Sat., August 25th : Depart San Francisco for London Heathrow.
Miles and Pat flew to Amsterdam earlier in the week and were waiting for us at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium, near Brussels. Present with me were Beagle Evans, Danny Sullivan (our new drummer), and Eli Crews, who filled in for Stevie La Follette on bass for this tour. Ours was a direct flight, ten hours. Hard on the ass, but better than having to try and make a connecting flight. Virgin Atlantic has these little blue plastic bags of arty little knick-knacks, and it is on the little yellow notepad enclosed that I wrote this. All of the movies had Johnny Depp in them, including “Blow,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” I passed on these and toggled back and forth between the Sky Map (so I could see precisely when we flew over Godthab, Greenland), the classical music station (so I could sleep) and a documentary about the dung beetle.
Sat,. August 25th: Pukkelpop, Belgium.
The tour did not begin well. Thanks to an extremely tight travel itinerary, the four of us did not make it in time for this show. We were scheduled to play at 7:10pm, but we didn’t even arrive at the gate until 7:35. Three things contributed to our being late: First, the time zone change, where we lost an hour, did not seem to be accounted for. Second, we missed our Eurotunnel train scheduled for 1:21pm (UK time) and had to take the 1:51. 30 minutes were lost. By the time we got to Calais it was practically 4:00. Third, we got a flat tire in Belgium about 90 miles from the gig. This lost us at least 40 minutes. Even with all of this, we still would have been scrambling had we been right on schedule, as the drive time was a lot longer than what was estimated. Bottom line? We should have flown out Friday morning and not Friday afternoon. Who was to blame for why we didn’t? Well, fingers were flying in all directions. After everyone blew off a little steam, we went to the tent and had dinner to cool off. As we were eating, we were advised that we could play a make up gig at midnight in the “experimental tent.” This was extremely generous of the folks at Pukkelpop. They did not need to give us this olive branch, but we’re thankful they did. Miles told them it was up to the four of us to vote on it, since we were the ones who had to endure the 20 hour odyssey of planes, trains and automobiles. We voted in favor of doing the gig so we could familiarize ourselves with the borrowed equipment. After the first song, Beags' keyboards blew a fuse on the right hand side of the stage and he ran over to play next to Pat for the remainder of the 30 minute gig. With all of that, we put on a better show than expected, and the crowd was clamoring for an encore, but we just didn’t have any energy left to give. Since we played after Prodigy, this technically means Beulah headlined Pukkelpop on 25/8. Hooray for Beulah! Gremlins 4, Beulah 2.
Sun., August 26th: Lowlands, Holland.
After the Pukkelpop fiasco, we were destined for a rebound. But did I mention the heat? In Belgium and Holland during these past two days, the peak temperature approached 100 degrees, complete with 90% humidity. We didn’t bring any shorts for the trip, so we were soaked. I’d also been sneezing since we got off the plane at Heathrow. At first I thought I was just allergic to the U.K, but it had reached the point of a full blown allergy attack by the time we reached Belgium. Today’s gig was in Holland at 1pm, right during the peak heat of the day. The tent was covered, but the shade was cancelled out by the hot stage lights. Hell, I was drenched in the dressing room long before the gig for simply changing my guitar strings! This was one of those days where it was a good thing all of us are a little older and wiser than the average rock band, as we had the good sense to drink lots of water. With that, the show was still a success. The sound was great and the people dug it, but 3/4th of the way through I felt like I was going to die. Miles threw up after we got off, and Danny almost passed out. I did finally get revenge on Miles for attacking me backstage in New Orleans, though. Near the end of “Emma Blowgun,” I usually toss my trumpet mute and try to hit Miles, but I have been mostly unsuccessful in this endeavor. Today was a direct hit. I gave him a shiner just above his right eyebrow. He doesn’t know this, though. He thinks it was an accident. I also managed one attempt at stage banter, which did not get lost in the translation: “We’re from California and it’s still fucking hot.” Beulah 3, Gremlins 2.
After the gig, Miles and I walked through the crowd wearing only boxer shorts to take a cold shower for a photo shoot. One nice thing about Dutch culture is the lack of hangups about nudity. Their bathrooms are co-ed and right out in the wide open, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable walking around in my underwear. The shower didn’t help much, though, and we were all soaking wet again by the time of the photo shoot, and even wetter still for a live acoustic radio and webcast for VPRO radio. Then, the ultimate in wetness, a thunderstorm rolled in about 5:00 and dumped two inches of rain on the festival. Eli commented as we left, passing by the campgrounds full of soaked tents, “There’s a scene of pure unhappiness.” We drove back to our Hotel in Hasselt, Belgium to stay a second night since it was on the way to Paris.
Mon., August 27: La Guinguette Pirate, Paris.
The gig in Paris was on an old wooden boat docked on the Seine near the Pont de Bercy in the 12th arrondissement. It rocked. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about two things. First, would the French like the rock? I’d heard stories about how French tastes did not include harder rock shows like the one we put on live. Second, do we introduce ourselves in French or English? In my experience in Parisian cafes and restaurants, most interactions where you begin ordering in English do not go well. I kept both of these things to myself, though, and both questions were answered, to my personal embarrassment, when the crowd laughed at me after I said “Bonjour.” Miles saved things with his usual blue-blooded American charm, and, near the end, he asked if they wanted to hear a slow one or a rockin’ one? They wanted the rock. Not my best performance, but as a whole our best show so far. After soundcheck, we were able to walk along the Seine all the way to Notre Dame for a few tourist snapshots before making it back for the gig. As I commented to Danny on the way back, Paris is not a city that has to go out of its way to appear charming, it just is. Beulah 3, Gremlins nil.
Tues., August 28: “Day off,” Drive from Paris to London.
Paris in the morning, London at night. How many bands of our size can claim that one? Nice on paper, less glamorous in practice. The morning began with a dead van battery, a group push-start through a busy intersection with Eli clinging for his life standing on the back bumper as the van fired up and sped across the street. I love it when the itinerary says “day off,” when it really means “eight smelly guys and one unfortunate woman who has to smell them (Emily from Shifty) for eight hours of sore legs and asses coupled with lewd guy-talk and bad gas station food.” Not to sound ungrateful, but in Beulah’s world, a proper day off means the single guys go to the red light district in Amsterdam for a quick blow job while I get to visit my sister, brother in law and my two month old twin nephews for brunch. This was a drive day, not a day off. We were in better spirits after a shower at the Columbia Hotel, Notting Hill, London, our home away from home for the next two days. Bowie used to live there in the early sixties, according to our UK friends. After we settled in, we walked around a bit and went to our favorite bangers and mash restaurant near Ladbroke Grove Station and then hopped on the tube for a midnight interview at XFM. Miles flew solo for this one, and was in a surly mood. He went off on Posh Spice (“She doesn’t look too healthy, does she?”), Robbie Williams (“Why does he put on that tough sneer in his videos when he sings like such a pussy?”), the Strokes (“They’re a good band, but not the fucking saviors of rock”) and how the British Press blows everything way out of proportion. He also thought John, the DJ, was comparing us to Supertramp (“Well, fair enough, to each his own…”), not realizing John said “Superchunk.” We waited until later to reveal that one. When Miles called us cowards for staying in the control room, Eli dropped his pants and pressed his butt cheeks up to the studio window. I guess that settles it, Beulah is cheeky.
Wed., August 29: Poptones night at Notting Hill Arts Centre, London.
We were jolted awake at two in the morning after some jackass decided to pull the fire alarm. Then we went downstairs to witness a near drunken brawl in the lobby where some dude (probably the one who pulled the alarm) locked horns with a bigger dude and said “don’t you ever fuck my wife.” Well, that’s what I heard, but Pat said he thought he heard “touch my wife.” Whatever. The good news about this gig was that it was a five minute walk from the hotel. In our previous tours, we would have slept on someone’s floor in Oxford, drove four hours (accounting for rush hour traffic) to London, played the gig, had two drinks before hopping back on the van to drive all the way back to Oxford. No longer. Much more humane, this hotel thing. The NHAC was one of the worst sounding rooms at sound check, but when we played the gig it sounded fine. In a room where the floors, walls and ceiling are all solid concrete, you can expect things to be a little bit cavernous. Eli couldn’t hear his bass from where he was standing, but I could. I couldn’t hear my guitar, but he could. Guess we could have traded places. Ah, well, it was a great gig. Great DJ music. One of the guys from Hefner was spinning old Zeppelin, Blondie, cool stuff like that, all on vinyl. We also tried a shot of absinthe, but all it gave me was a worse hangover and a funny taste in my mouth when I brushed my teeth. Tarrant Anderson, our sound man for this and all previous tours, has all of the makings of a serial killer. He is quiet, methodical, intelligent, but has a very subtle and poignant mean streak. Said he about the crowd at the show: “These people to me are merely flesh, to break up the sound.” Beulah 2, Gremlins 1.
Thurs., August 30: Press day, London and Wales.
The morning began similarly to last Friday in Belgium. This time there was a miscommunication over the phone regarding transportation to the morning’s acoustic radio session at XFM. A shouting match followed in the lobby of the Hotel. All was forgiven when Miles dedicated a song to Mac (our tour manager, affectionately nicknamed “cheese nut”) on the radio interview at BBC Wales in Cardiff, but the morning began with some sour grapes. We caught a cab from Notting Hill to Leicester Square to do the XFM acoustic radio session in the nick of time. It was nerve wracking, as Eli played the other guitar playing bass lines and the only regular guitar being played was by me. Normally, as Miles says, I am pretty solid when it comes to performing under pressure, but my leg was shaking from the nerves. Luckily it was a taped session, though. The session ended with three lovely takes, one of “Gene Autry,” one of “Popular Mechanics for Lovers,” and one of “The Battle Cry of the West.” Danny and Beags joined in on backup vocals. We then departed for Wales, and the mood in the van changed for the better when Miles picked up an acoustic guitar and we all began singing along to cover songs like “Psycho Killer.” We did the BBC session in Cardiff about 7pm, with Pat and Danny joining in with Miles. We then pulled into Neath about 9pm to check into the Hotel and grabbed a few pints at the pub. Some of our Resolven friends, Jason, Pixy, Matti, Rudy from El Goodo (the names I can remember off the top of my head), drove to Neath to join us for a few pints. We snuck into the bar next door where it was karaoke night. The list of songs was pretty terrible. I was looking for “Psycho Killer,” but of course they didn’t have it. What they did have was a fat guy singing Meat Loaf songs all serious-like. Matti and Pixy decided they’d had enough and did a full blown sprint from the back of the bar and dove into a belly slide across the floor in front of the stage. Then they grabbed the mike and did a hilarious exaggerated mumble version of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.” I laughed so hard I pissed my pants. The locals were not that amused. However, as we were to find, the Welsh are the friendliest people on earth, so even Meat Loaf didn’t make too much of a stink, whereas we would have been tossed out of the bar in America.
Fri., August 31: Miners’ Welfare Hall, Record Release Party, Resolven, Wales.
It was raining as we left the town of Neath through the winding, tree-lined mountainous highway to Resolven. Pat said that the road was a little like Highway One in California, but without the tall Redwood Trees. The lush green backdrop of mountains and trees was peppered with an occasional 12th century castle, and it made for the best van ride to a gig ever. From the moment we arrived, we were treated like royalty. The man in charge of accommodations at the gig, Mr. Davies was an old man with a gray beard, one of the sweetest people I’d ever met. You could tell that the lines on his face were not lines of toil and hardship, though as a miner of 30 years there was probably plenty of that, but joy and happiness. His wife made us sandwiches and there was an abundance of fruit, chips, chocolates and juices at our disposal. She did not seem to like being thanked, like it was no big deal to make all of that food. In fact, anyone in Resolven would have given us anything we could possibly have asked for. The old man (I am drawing a blank at his first name as he said it really fast) was a kind, gentle soul who served as the elder statesman of the town. He pointed to the mountains and talked about the mines that closed down. He would go back to mining in a second, he said, because there was a camaraderie that is difficult to replicate above ground (I’m paraphrasing). It sounded to me a little like how a soldier feels after returning home from war. He said that they left 150 years worth of coal behind in the mine, so that when we run out of gas they can reopen the mines. He paused after that and said, “you know, you boys have put us on the map.” He had heard the BBC interview in Cardiff the night before, where we announced the gig, and you could tell that he was swelling with pride that the name of his home town was mentioned on the radio. It is a feeling that appeals to me, having been born in raised in a town in Wisconsin about the same size of Resolven. Before that, Resolven’s most recent claim to fame, he said, was that they were the sixth wettest spot in the world two years ago, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. I told him I had just returned from the number one spot, Kauai, and that Wales, with its short cloud bursts of rain, was similar, though much cooler. I’m always uncomfortable referring to our band in heroic terms, but how else to describe the crowd’s reaction to our show, both the anticipation of it by hearing that some people in the town were closing the shops early to get ready, and the chanting of the name “Beulah” over and over during tuning breaks between songs? The Miners’ Welfare Hall was an old theatre, and the acoustics were amazing. It really sounded warm in there. Matt from Murry the Hump introduced their set by saying that he saw “Superman” in there as a kid. After the gig, we went down to the local pub, which was kept open after hours on our behalf. When we opened the door, everyone who was at the gig, it seemed, was crammed into this little pub. They all cheered when we walked in, and many pints were ordered for all of us. We were not allowed to pay for anything. Then, many people took turns standing on tables to raise a toast to us. Matt from Murry the Hump dedicated his toast to Steve St. Cin and Stevie La Follette who could not be here with us. It was just an awesome evening, and none of us will forget this as long as we live. It was hard for us to leave and we were on the verge of being late for our flights back home from Heathrow and Gatwick. As I sit here now, on the plane somewhere over Greenland, I think I can speak for everyone in the band in saying that a night like this is worth all of the toil and drudgery of the unglamorous side of rock and roll. We’ll probably never be world famous, nor would care to be, but the fact that we can touch an entire town, especially one whose culture is rooted with a rich history of singing and storytelling, is more than enough to feel like we’ve achieved way more than we ever set out to. I wish I were a better storyteller, as there were many funny small episodes throughout the night, but I have a feeling that, should anyone reading this ever take a trip to Resolven, there will be stories of this day better than I could ever tell. This was one of the most unique and satisfying events ever to occur in my life. Needless to say, the tour ended on the ultimate high note, and there is no football score more evenly matched to begin to approach the magnitude of this “win,” and with that, so ends this account. Hope you enjoyed it.