Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Most Mundane Travel Notes

Been in England ten days now and played eight shows. Lots of zigzagging (Portsmouth to Norwich to Brighton to York to Preston to Newcastle) which is how it works out sometimes. The shows have gone well - everyone's expectations are so low at this point, due to the lousy economy, that even if twenty-some people show up the promoter says it's been a success. Eric and I have both found joy in playing again, after the burn out/wall we hit in the US.

I still haven't learned to drive the ambulance, and since Eric is expert at driving the left hand drive vehicle on the right side of the road, my job has been to try staying awake in the passenger seat and studying current British culture. Here are some of my notes:

I'm never so aware of fashion as when we're touring around the UK. Forget France, which moves so slowly, with flair. Things change here - all of a sudden everyone's in slightly baggy jeans, though not as quickly as the skinny ones a few years back. I devour the papers and magazines and they have the desired effect where suddenly I'm longing to go shopping and buy this new lipstick, jacket, or skirt. Or why stop there, how about a shiny new "property"? We watch as many property shows as possible.

One of the best shows ever, Peep Show, is back on TV. We caught up with what seemed like the second episode in the new season, but has something happened to Mark? The weird stuffed animal sparkle has gone out of his eyes.

Is it possible to climb a grassy bank from a humble chain hotel to a service station to buy milk without feeling like Alan Partridge?

My new obsession is Jackie magazine. I saw a 1987 compendium of this teen girl mag on our friend Kate's shelf and now I'm hooked - crude but cute illustrations, spotty faces, scrawny sallow limbs and crooked teeth on the models. Before technology made perfection an obligation. I know I'm going to be on eBay seeking out my own copies as soon as I get home.

The food has improved on the motorways - we used to have to hold out for the Marks & Spencer branches to buy fresh fruit or salads. Now they're everywhere.

Went into a Starbucks in what had obviously been a Little Chef. The inside was just like any Starbucks, but I swear the windows still had that steamy, greasy Little Chef look. I remember staring at the black and white photos of egg and chips in the Quadrophenia booklet when that album first came out and thinking "how exotic, gritty and glamorous, cause it's England." And Little Chef probably hadn't even been invented yet. It really is all the same everywhere now, sort of.

We went for a stroll and admired narrow boats on the canal near Manchester yesterday. Then we had ice cream. God, are we middle-aged.

The promoters and venue owners have been so nice to us. Makes me feel bad all over again about certain clubs in the US. Club Cafe in Pittsburgh in particular. I hate that place. Not the people who come to shows there, just the place.

Saw a really good film last night, The Damned United. 70's footballers - it looked great with amazing actors Michael Sheen & my favorite Timothy Spall. I want to go to a football match, but only if someone invents a time machine and I can go back to the seventies when the players had cool haircuts and sideburns.

We had to cancel our show in Henley tonight. Doubt anyone will even notice. The humiliation factor was just running too high. On to London tomorrow, the Buffalo Bar in Islington. Then back on the boat.

This is rambling and disjointed but I'm posting it anyway. I've got important things to do (ie, there's a Boots and a TK Maxx not far away).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Indian Summer

I was almost barred from entering the country the other day at the port, but since they have decided to let me in to England, it looks like we've got to play these shows.

Now that we're here, things are going well. Visited with Andy and Amber in Herne Bay after my run-in with the British authorities at Boulogne and they revived us with cups of tea and fish and chips. Saturday night in Bristol was so much fun! And we benefited from the Premier Inn money back "Good Night" guarantee because there was no TV remote in our room, so we couldn't actually have a good night's sleep. So, we're saving money too.

Our gigs were in the Guardian Gig Guide! Not that in makes any difference whatsoever whether anyone shows up, and true they called us a folk-punk duo which I think would surely cancel out any potential audience, but hey - at least we're in there.

I'd forgotten how some audiences actually clap and cheer for music. Cambridge was a small, select crowd and we used a weird bedroom lava lamp type thing cause we couldn't find the light switch in the venue. Very psychedelic. Phil Parker from Except The General provided excellent support - he's been doing some recording with Eric and he writes great nostalgic but immediate songs. Now we're on to Portsmouth, and back up to Norwich tomorrow. We've lucked in to some Indian summer weather too. Maybe this is our personal Indian Summer. A little blast of warm air, a shot of light.

And amazing news, our friend Karen called yesterday to alert me that Craig, one of my favorite haircutters ever who was apparently also on Big Brother (meaningless to me but he is a true character) had surfaced with a new salon in Norfolk. And my hair is in sad shape. I hope he can fit me in. So glad I'm not picking apples back in the Haute Vienne. There's always next year for that.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby UK Tour

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kir In Plastic Bottles

I spent all week collecting clothes and shoes to sell and then cleaning, ironing and separating them into piles for how I was going to display them. I borrowed a table, some umbrellas in case it was hot and sunny and got the lawn chairs out of the van. I was nervous, like I was getting ready for a gig. But I’ve done so many shows whereas I’ve never tried to sell stuff at a flea market, especially one in the French countryside.

I’ve been looking for another way to make money, and also a way to get into the French health insurance system. I researched picking apples during the fall harvest but it starts today and we’re touring in England beginning Saturday so that’s out. For a while I’d been thinking “Damn, I wish I could be a migrant farm worker but instead I have to go play these #$%^ shows” but since I hit on the market seller possibility I’ve started looking forward to the tour.

It was good to have something different to be stressed about for a change. Eric helped me load the car the night before so all I had to do was get up at six and drive to Piegut, a half an hour away. I’d never been out in the countryside at dawn, except when we’ve been rushing to the train station. It was slightly misty, the sky rose-colored, the trees dark shapes along the road, all the old stone houses with their shutters down. No one on the road. I got to Piegut and the street was blocked off where all the rides were set up for the Foire, or fair, and even though I’d consulted Via Michelin about where exactly the flea market was, I still wasn’t sure. So I parked and walked to the boulangerie which I’m familiar with from when we go to the Piegut market on Wednesdays. I was wondering if the flea market part was happening at all, because I didn’t see another car anywhere.

In the bakery there was a guy picking up a cake and two huge baguettes. At 7 AM! People are farmers around here, but it still seems unthinkable that they’re out doing errands at that hour, and on a Sunday. I imagine he’s probably in bed asleep by eight o’clock at night though, not out partying at Kim’s in Brantome, as we’d done.

I asked the woman behind the counter where the flea market was and she told me, but because of all the weird hills and one way streets in the village I decided I’d better walk over and see how to get there before I got in the car. I’ve gotten a lot better with the manual transmission but I still have my moments, especially around pedestrians, where I have extreme fear I’m going to do something wrong and go plowing into a crowd.

The place was full of people setting up, all looking like they knew what they were doing. It was a big parking lot on a hillside, surrounded by trees and some bizarre moderne official type of French buildings that turn up in small towns - it’s hard to tell whether they’re from the thirties, fifties or seventies - lots of curves and geometry, white or grey plaster. A weird contrast to the fifteenth century buildings and cows and sheep on hillsides in the distance.

I walked back to get the car, carefully maneuvered in to find a spot, choosing a space between what looked like an English couple (she - blonde in sweats, so it was pretty obvious she wasn’t French, he - tall, bald with a dark beard, so same thing) selling furniture, and a couple of French country guys unloading an assortment of furniture and old TVs from an ancient white and bright yellow Peugeot van. I asked if there was room next to them and they were nice and helped me unload the table from the car and when they saw me leaving to find a place to park, one of them ran over to tell me to just park right next to their van.

I put the clothes on the rack, laid some more out on the table and shoes beneath. I didn’t bother with the umbrellas because we were under the trees. Our friend Francoise was supposed to join me later so I put out a table for her and the lawn chairs. By now it was eight and the first shoppers were coming around. I hadn’t been sure whether to put prices on things or not, but I thought if I put a few it would at least give people an idea of my reasonable prices.

For a few minutes at the beginning it hit me that possibly I would not sell anything. I wish I could say I was completely wrong and that when I left at the end of the day the car was empty except for a table and rack.

But there just weren’t very many customers. By eleven o’clock, when I’d sold enough to feel like it was worthwhile, the not-exactly-a-crowd thinned out for lunch and never returned. The woman running the market came around with a recycled water bottle full of kir, low-grade champagne and cassis, and poured a plastic cup for all the sellers, and that was pretty much it. I hung around for a few more hours sketching, hoping for another customer or two and having to endure the lame, limp-wristed versions of Beatles, Paul Simon and Bob Marley songs by local group Vis a Vis. When they launched into their Who medley I knew it was time to pack up.

I have to look at it as a learning experience. I’m 100% sure I chose a bad vide grenier - it seemed promising because it was connected to the fair with its rides and feasting and those draw a lot of people, but they’d chosen a location all the way on the other end of the village for the flea market. Eric tried to find me but the signs actually pointed in the wrong direction, so that couldn’t have helped.

And it’s clear used clothes are not an easy sell in the French countryside. I saw sellers who just threw a nasty tarp on the ground, dumped a pile of clothes on it and shoved a torn piece of cardboard on top saying “1e” - one euro for everything. Charge anything more than that and people huff and raise their eyebrows.

There are very few people under forty in the countryside - they are the ones who bought the vintage stuff. There are a lot of English people around but they’re all broke thanks to the devaluation of the pound. The French are very marque-oriented - things I had from H&M, a pair of Superga sneakers never worn, shirts and skirts by Benetton - these all sold. The US brands are too much a mystery. The US sizes are different - even though I ended up translating them and writing the French equivalents on stickers, people are unsure and I can understand that, especially with trousers and skirts that they can’t try on.

People would rather stand around in the baking sun than try to stay warm in the shade - I noticed that the few tables out of the shadow of the trees got more customers. And they won’t look at clothes unless they’re on racks. For the table you need household items, or at least purses (no!), objects. And only having things for women - that’s no good, because you cut out half the crowd right there.

So I will definitely try it again, in the spring. I’ll do more research on where the better markets are - out of the sticks closer to Bordeaux and Toulouse probably. And if it doesn’t work there’s always next year’s apple harvest.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby - UK Tour Dates

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Don't Take Your Gloves To Town

As if to make a point, my computer has been giving me a lot of trouble the last few days. Proving how indispensable it is to me - I think between the two of us we share one brain.

Giving up on the computer for a while gave me a chance to start getting my stuff together for the flea market I'm selling at on Sunday. I started out with a huge pile of clothes and shoes, but if I keep "organizing" much longer there won't be much left to sell.

Lots of my clothes haven't fit in over two years - those have to go. There are some I have no problem getting rid of: any clothes I bought and wore for temping. Also some black clothes hastily purchased to wear to my mother's funeral a few years back - as if I ever needed more black clothes, but it felt like it wasn't respectful enough to wear a skirt or top I'd played a gig or gone grocery shopping in. Items from Target or H&M, usually a cheap pick-me-up that briefly served its purpose and then made me feel kind of worse - those can definitely go.

There are some things I'm incapable of parting with: purses - I have dozens, even though I tend to drag around the same tired messenger bag everywhere. Each cute purse is a potential other life where I'm daintily pulling a compact out of a tiny beaded handbag instead of heaving a janitor-worthy set of keys, water bottles, notebooks, set lists and trail mix around; hats, same thing - all the possibilities to become someone else; scarves - even if I hate the colors and have no intention of ever doing anything with them but looking at them next to each other, it's like a miniaturized amalgamation of every thrift shop I've ever been in, there in the scarf drawer.

I can't even think of selling the odd unwearable vintage clothes I've been carrying around forever - a skirt sewn to look like an entire roulette wheel with felt numbers around the hem and a sequined ball pinned on, a floor-length white raincoat with big black buttons, a 50's white leather jacket embroidered with silver, a black lamé pantsuit from the late 60's worth keeping even for the label - "MicMac St. Tropez" in bright green thread on royal blue...A 70's grey Western suit jacket, 100% polyester but incredibly well-cut by that master of tailoring Kenny Rogers, either before or after his chicken restaurant failed.

It's a good thing I wasn't here when the vide grenier woman returned my call to book a space - they do it by metre and I thought a metre was comparable to a foot so I was going to ask for five. A metre's actually closer to a yard. Eric told her two, but if I keep subtracting stuff that's still going to be too much.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Go Ask Alice

I fell down a rabbit hole the other day. I really, really did not want to open the South by Southwest 2010 email that was in my mailbox as there is not much chance I'll ever be springing for a trip to that long-running music festival again. Now if they invite me to waddle up the aisle for some kind of lifetime achievement award in the year..ah, 2025, that's a different story. But til then I think I'll keep sitting it out, having had a great time in Austin for many years since the thing was held in a tent with a case of beer and everyone in sleeping bags. Back before the internet was invented.

But my hand slipped on the keyboard and next thing I knew I was reading the SXSW newsletter, where they were giving people a chance to vote on potential panels. Then my hand slipped again and I was scrolling through eight or nine pages of panel proposals, mostly along the lines of "Making Social Media Work For You" and other promotional workshops that made my eyes cross with boredom just reading the titles - marketing was never a big interest or strength of mine, but apparently it's pretty much all anyone involved in music thinks about any more.

There was a time when that selling business was the (usually neglected) job of a record company. Now it is apparently possible to make a pretty good living at this music game, if you're willing to put in your time at the keyboard. Not keyboard as in piano keys but to sit in front of the computer constantly reminding people of your existence. Damn, I'm doing it myself right now - when I could be coming up with some excellent music. But who would know, if I didn't make a point of keeping in touch at all times?

One title caught my eye - something about writing a song a week. I clicked on the proposal, where a singer/songwriter said the old model of putting together an album of 12 good songs every two or so years was not going to work anymore - that now it was all about providing new content for the fans as often as possible and by challenging yourself to write and make available a new song a week, you'd be giving them just that while keeping yourself creative, exercising those songwriting muscles.

People were allowed to comment on the panel proposals and someone wrote in saying you couldn't force creativity, sometimes it takes a while to say something meaningful or interesting, he resented the whole idea of a song a week.

The song-a-week guy then replied to album's-worth-of-twelve-good-songs man, first saying he was entitled to work any way he chose but then s-a-w got warmed up and his creativity really started flowing as he made all kinds of suggestions for what the (obviously) old codger could do with his prehistoric mindset - I got the feeling it was the most emotion s-a-w guy had felt about anything in a very long time.

The sad part, aside from the time I was wasting playing imaginary referee, was that this is just the type of lively argument that would have once occurred in real time, in front of a crowd who could have also joined in the debate. Blood might have even been spilled.

And now I can't decide who to cast my lot with - accept that fans will take what you give them as long as it's with some regularity, that if they believe in your "brand" well that's good enough for them? Or have faith in the possibly archaic form of the record album itself, a collection of a certain number of songs that go together, some kind of perfection worth aspiring to, whether anyone hears it or not?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Flea Fever


It makes total sense that as soon as I finally get my bike tires fixed, it starts raining...and raining.

Still, we had fun visiting Kim in Brantome yesterday. She's a rarity in this part of SW France - an American, and has opened a lovely shop that will expand next summer to include a cafe. It was inspiring to see what she and her business partner Jean-Yves are doing to her old French house, keeping the charm and the patina. And her garden gave me hope!

We had a bite to eat in a cafe and, as much as I loved Roger Cohen's ode to eating in France in the NY Times the other day, it was more telling about the general direction food's going in this country too that both Kim and I were surprised when the omelettes we ordered were actually good. Expecting the worst in restaurants becomes a sad habit, even here.

Then she showed us the Perigueux (shhh, don't tell anyone) Emmaus. It's hard to find any kind of thrift shop-style bargains in France- even some of the most unsightly crap is prohibitively expensive but this store has the stuff and the low prices. Too bad I'm out of money right now cause I saw these 70's panels (one pictured above) that I'd love to have for something. But you know you're broke when it's too much of a risk to even inquire how much an (admittedly useless) item costs!

It gave me some ideas though - I'm looking around for a flea market in the next weekend or two so I can unload some of my old stuff, thus enabling me to buy some new old stuff.