Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Calendar Boys

It's that time of year when the local fire department comes around with their calendars, accepting donations for the work they do.

People joke about how you better not stiff these guys, because they might hold it against you and ignore your call if you should ever need their help. I doubt that's true but it would be rude to not pony up and deny them the chance to give you a copy of their specially-designed calendar.

It might make sense to go with the old standard and use pictures on the calendar that make it something cheery to hang on a wall: flowers or puppies or local chateaux or firefighters in provocative poses.

But that would all be too random, too ordinary. I'm not sure what it's like in other towns and villages in France, but around here the calendars are absolutely literal: burning houses, cars turned upside down in flames, vans wrapped around light poles. They'd show one of the men in blue getting a kitten out of a tree but that would probably be too cutesy and might bring a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling - this is cold, hard firefighter reality and if you want to be reminded of where your donation is going, just check out the head-on collision for March.

I celebrate the sapeurs-pompiers and their calendar. I hope that none of the lurid photos in this year's version involved any injuries or loss of life - would they have remembered to ask permission to use the photos?

I'm a little miffed they left out the exploding woodburner.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


No kids, no tree, no lights.

We're having a quiet Christmas: unpacking from almost two months of traveling, and trying to whip this house into shape. Eric has tiled the kitchen, I'm on caulk gun and undercoat.

No foie gras this year, just a couple of steaks and some Champagne. Chocolate treats from my favorite patisserie.

A Steve McQueen film fest, and maybe "A Mighty Wind" which we know so well we don't really watch it so much as act out all the parts.

This morning we walked in a nearby village - checking out what's for sale, what's been sold. Looking at smoke coming up out of the chimneys, and a little bit of snow on the roof tiles. It was cold but lovely, walking in the sunshine.

Our fifth Christmas in France. I wanted to take some photos this morning but decided to just look and think about the other years.

We miss everybody but feel lucky to have seen my whole family in America and Eric's mother, daughter and granddaughter in England this month, along with lots of our dear friends.

I feel happy to be here with Eric, a musical hero who can tile a kitchen. And having had the chance to go out and play a lot of shows this year. I want to say thank you to everyone who visits this blog. I know I spend a lot of time on here complaining, crying "Why?" etc. I know I'll be doing that again soon. But it's Christmas, a time for celebrating. It's been a hard year and we made it through.

I could spin a holiday story about this display of two hulking wooden figures that sit in a parking lot in Nontron, a dull, pretty town famous for knives. But I won't - I just know that it makes me laugh every time I see it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Running Between The Snowflakes


For days the British headlines screamed warnings of a snowstorm, freezing temperatures and icy roads. They urged people to say home, but where was home for us? We were on the road and still had gigs to play.

Maybe we died a few weeks ago in New Jersey, in the parking lot of that rogue Alamo car rental office out back of the Renaissance hotel on Route 1, and were now zombies doomed to criss-cross the highways and motorways and autoroutes of the world with a van full of battered equipment, loading in to bars and clubs and beautiful homes and even Boy Scout lodges at 5 PM for all eternity. That might explain the fact that we drove from the south of England all the way to the north of England, then traveled east to Norfolk, then back south to Kent and over to Dover and barely saw a snowflake.

It might also explain why the roads were practically empty. Like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, we could only see the other zombies? Those rosy cheeked other customers in Costa Coffee - all dead? (The employees too, but that's nothing unusual.)

Occasionally we'd pass a car covered with snow, panic-stricken driver gripping the wheel inside, peering out through frosted windscreen. Meanwhile we cruised along in a ray of sunshine.

At every stop along the way, we were greeted with concern: "How was it out there? Was it awful? Can't believe you made it!" and we shook our heads, wondering what everyone was talking about. Eric's mother called, frantic that we were stranded somewhere. She'd been so worried we wouldn't make our gigs, she'd tucked some money in one of our bags, just in case.

The fact that we'd left our mobile phone behind somewhere in America only added to the drama/Sixth Sense scenario - people trying to get in touch with us got a mysterious "not available" message. And every time we stopped at a services and looked for a payphone, we'd see another rack of newspapers shrieking of certain peril for anyone on the road and we'd rush back to the van to try to beat the snowstorm that was coming from...everywhere.

When we reached the ferry and were ensconced with the lorry drivers and other zombies in yet another Costa Coffee, drinking our espressos and reading of Heathrow passengers stranded for days and driving expert Jeremy Clarkson having to ditch his car and walk 11 miles in the snow to Oxford, they made an announcement that our departure would be delayed: they had to board three busloads of foot passengers who'd been stranded at a train station in London due to weather.

When they finally let the weary hordes onto the boat, hollow-eyed, lugging their rolling suitcases, looking like every banished contestant from every reality show ever broadcast all brought together in one mismatched bunch, we had to chuckle at our good fortune.

No passport check at Calais, to prove we still really existed. That's not so unusual - they generally can't be bothered. And for hours through the frozen French countryside, as fog swirled and trucks sprayed, we held on to the idea that we were the only people, living or dead, left on the earth. France has that effect sometimes, especially after England - where did all the people go? Through empty towns with boarded up gas stations and eerie Christmas lights blinking on and off, until the snow had run out and we pulled up in front of the house.

I walked up to the supermarket, the air wet with rain and warmer, much warmer. Complete silence - maybe we had come back to our final resting place, a small village in rural France.

When the door slid back, I saw mounds of gift-wrapped foie gras and stacks of fancy chocolate boxes that would no doubt sit gathering dust in the recipients' houses until they were passed on next Christmas. I heard Ace of Base, who are always playing in some supermarket in France, as if the last twenty years never happened.

And there, in the glow of the cash register, I saw the beady eyes of Rat Face - evil checkout girl. Nothing had changed. I was still alive.

Or maybe that piece of candy I stole from the Giant Eagle when I was six had finally caught up with me and just like Sister Mary George warned, this was how I was going to spend eternity?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jetlagged Ramblings

Flying over to England the plane was filled with glamorous women with glossy long highlighted hair, expensive jeans and suitcases too heavy for their scrawny arms to lift into the overheads. I kept imagining that if the plane went down all that would remain would be hair products, bobbing up and down on the surface of the Atlantic.

I slept for a while after watching "The Kids Are All Right" for the second time. I loved this movie - Annette Bening's performance is right up there with Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter and Paul Giamatti in Sideways for having me on the verge of tears throughout the entire film - awe and emotion, "how did she do that?"

The first time I'd seen the movie was on the way over to the US, back when I was still almost young (ie one month ago). Then, the main question in my head was how I'd survive touring with a hideous cold.

Now, heading back overseas, I was still trying to process all the things I'd seen and done on the trip.

It was screens that I remembered, that kept flashing in front of my eyes: the screen of my ersatz iphone, the EZ Pass LEDs, hotel and motel flat screens. The laptop on stage, laptops in cafes. People in the audience for the Hanukkah show looking at Facebook on their iPhones - why? Movies in movie theatres, chosen not for their merit but because they happened to be playing at the right moment - and how movies are filled with laptops and iphones now, as part of the action. Just as I used to enjoy watching movies from the 40s and 50s for the vintage clothes and apartment furnishings, I now find myself enjoying dumb romantic comedies from the 80s and 90s for the lack of technology - who cares about plot and dialogue, just see how the actors manouevre with phone cords and shoving coins into payphone coin slots, offices where people flip through rolodexes and file cards, slide folders across arid desktops.

Public bathrooms, where everything is automated now - you don't have to touch a tap or a soap dispenser. Wave your hand for a paper towel. And in all the rest rooms, or hotel bathrooms, you never really know what you look like, only that some mirrors are forgiving and some are brutal.

Have I been away awhile, or have servers in restaurants become even more aggressive in their "I'll be taking care of you today" insincerity - shamelessly working the tip, only to disappear midway through without a word, replaced by another "team member"? We count sometimes no less than six people to deal with in order to eat lunch at say, Bravo - a chain Italian restaurant. By the time we pay the bill, I feel like we should have a brand new set of friends for life. But we walk out to not even a robotic "thanks and come again" because the team has moved on.

At the same time some of the lowlier service workers, at Walgreen's or Shoprite, seem sincere and sweet in comparison to the disinterested, disdainful and often downright hostile people (well, women - always women) in similar jobs in France.

Did I mention the shows? We had audiences, and fans! Attendance is down for everything but it still feels worth it (though the balance sheet would argue with that - when, how, will I ever figure out how to make a living?). They really rub it in at the airport, charging $60 per extra bag, which takes a Russian American/British Airways attendant forever to process due to the combined computer systems - while you wait there's a stack of magazines full of exotic expensive homes and sleek motorcars to buy. Where are the rich people? I just see families with taped-up cardboard boxes and shrink-wrapped luggage begging to get out of paying the extra $60. Us included ("waive the fee! waive the fee!" we chant for the 45 minutes it takes to accept our payment).

The Newark crew were whooping it up as the carry-ons rolled through, cracking jokes and helping us get the guitars safely off the belt. Where were the full-body scanners we'd been promised? All I saw were ads for in the bins to be passed through the xray machine. The security guard waved me away when I asked if we needed plastic bags for liquids and gels - "Aw, they don't do that no more." The rules change daily. No wonder the fashion brigade looked so fabulous all through the flight.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We Were The Washington Monument

There was one guy in the room, standing in front of the stage, as a Zombies record played and showtime drew nearer.

"It is what it is," I said to Eric backstage, repeating a phrase I'd often heard in the short time I lived in Cleveland and never completely understood. "Stuart's here, out in the bar, and my older brother John. Alan said he'd be coming, and maybe Graeme too. My old friend Sarah...and with the guy in front of the stage, that makes - an audience?"

"We'll play and it'll be fine," Eric said.

"Should I wear this dress?" I asked him, looking at myself in the mirror. Remembering that stupid drunk guy in Brighton, worried I'd look like I had expectations.

"Of course," he said. "You look great."

"Let's go then," I said and we laughed and did that little show folk thing that Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara do in "Waiting For Guffman" - click click, sad face happy face, pull my finger.

There were seven in front of the stage now. We started playing the opening song and like magic the room was filling up. Familiar faces and sort of familiar faces and guys in suits and ties youngish people and ones with white hair and glasses. People in black rock and roll t-shirts and work clothes.

It was Washington DC on a Wednesday night and the room was suddenly full of people who'd come to see us play. There was laughing and shouting, pogoing and clapping. Croatians, Russians, people from England and the beltway. It was the last show of a winter US tour I'd looked forward to and then been too sick and out of it on cold medicine to fully appreciate. I didn't want it to end.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Dreamed A Dream

Like a modern Twilight Zone episode, a curly-haired guy in a houndstooth check mac, knapsack and red sneakers kept appearing again and again in the airport, shouting into a mobile phone about acquiring the WORLDWIDE RIGHTS to some book, and how they were FLYING 40 JOURNALISTS IN SO BOWIE COULD WALK THEM THROUGH THE EXHIBITION, and they've got MARKETING STRATEGY and FILM RIGHTS. We were sure he was either a cyborg, some kind of performance artist or the modern day equivalent of a man talking to himself on the street - only in this case he'd lost his book publishing job two years ago and now roams the airports and public transit systems of the grand cities of the world, talking to no one about what might have been.

He'd mentioned New York in one of his expository monologues, so we were betting, hoping even, that he'd be on our flight.

I saw him approach our gate, still talking at top volume, but then he looped around and headed away to another part of the terminal.

"But they're calling Final Boarding!" I cried. "What will we do for seven hours if he's not on the plane, giving us something to speculate about?"

"He must be scheduled to do his act in a different part of the airport," Eric said.

We were devastated.

Then I saw him coming back, still talking on his "phone", with an armload of newspapers. Have to keep current, if you're someone in such an important position (wink wink).

"Watch him be in coach," Eric said.

Sure enough, at the last possible minute he squeezed into one of the economy seats just a few rows in front of us. We high-fived.

Later I saw one of the flight attendants trying to explain to him how to fill out the customs form. It was a highlight of the trip.

In honor of our deluded fellow traveler (or fellow deluded traveler), here's the SURE TO BE SOLD OUT SHOWS we have coming up in the next few weeks. Glassy-eyed enthusiasm is the way forward!

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby USA

Tues Nov 9 Valentine's Albany, NY
Thu Nov 11 Asbury Lanes Asbury Park, NJ
Fri Nov 12 Bowery Electric New York, NY
Sun Nov 14 Moose Exchange Bloomsburg, PA
Fri Nov 19 400 Bar Minneapolis, MN
Tues Nov 30 Motorco, Durham NC
Wed Dec 1 Black Cat, Washington DC

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lawrence Of Arabia Slept Here

It felt like goodbye to something last night sitting in what used to be our local bar, the Lawrence d'Arabie - it's now a bar/restaurant called Le Saxo. We'd resisted going into the place out of loyalty to Nico, our friend and the old owner - in memory of what he'd created there. The butcher across the street will not set foot in the new place, nor have some of the old clientele. But the new owner is a sweet man, a bit on the anxious side (but who wouldn't be trying to make a go of a new business in France these days?) If you were in Glasgow or Nashville, Norwich, Wheeling even, it would be easy to find somewhere else to go. But here on a Saturday night within a thirty mile radius there are probably only a half dozen places to get a beer or something to eat. Plus, given that Nico really wanted to sell the bar, an embargo doesn't make a lot of sense.

But I felt this wave of nostalgia and even grief, last night. Nico hadn't offered just another option - he'd given us an alternative. It wasn't just a place with food and alcohol, it was our place.

Was it coincidence or fate that made us stumble in there four years ago? Chalus was not our village, but it has a lot of history and there's something compelling about it even though it's pretty dead. You get the feeling, walking around, that once upon a time there was a lot going on in. We walked into the bar called "Lawrence d'Arabie" that had an almost Moroccan feel, with colored lamps and bamboo furniture, and I think we heard a record by Nick Cave or Tom Waits or even Alan Vega playing. Now the chances of that happening in a tiny village deep in rural France are very very slim but I had no way of knowing that back then - I thought hipsters were everywhere! Not hipsters in the derogatory sense but people into interesting music, into the world, new things, old things. By the time we walked out we had arranged our first local gig, and we ended up playing there a lot over the last couple of years.

Completely wood and stone inside, the sound was difficult. In winter I had to play next to a huge roaring fireplace, and the right corner of the stage area was also the entrance to the toilet. Sometimes people sat in front of us grimacing and sticking their fingers in their ears (for two sets) and every time the pizza oven upstairs kicked in my keyboard would cut out.

But when we played, friends and acquaintances and visitors and locals would come see us. It felt like we were most of us in it together, and by the time we got to Dancing With Joey Ramone or Round or Take The Cash, we had usually gotten somewhere - we'd changed the atmosphere of a tiny spot in the middle of France.

Sometimes I didn't want to play there, I wanted somewhere bigger, better, grander or at least somewhere without such a good view of a toilet door. But it's where Eric and I really learned to play together, to work together, like soldiers in a foxhole, or window washers up on the side of a building - keeping the balance, looking out for the other guy, if one of us goes down we both do.

I didn't think about any of this when we were sitting there last night. I just thought about how...dull the place seemed. Music kept at a barely audible level, an ipod shuffle, nothing that would put anyone off. No familiar faces, a decent meal with a sincere attempt to do everything correctly. I went in the bathroom, a tiny medieval closet under the stairs and thought of all the nights I'd gone in there after playing to wipe the eyeliner and mascara off from under my eyes. I'd go to the bar and there was always a glass of cognac there for me. Marquee Moon would come on, somebody pushing the volume up. Nico - a lanky dark Frenchman in a well-cut velvet suit jacket - would hug me and start shouting Amy! Eric! Amy! Eric! Le meilleur groupe en France!

Nico moved his family to Berlin - we hear he has a new bar there already. I think he's very happy which is good because he was often miserable in France. We'll move on too - I think the disillusionment really started sinking in for me when we found we couldn't call ourselves musicians here. A place I'd always thought was proud of and encouraged its artists requires you to jump through so many hoops it hardly seems worth it. The new bar owner had hoped to have us play there, but the charges and fear of putting a foot wrong have him hemming and hawing when we ask about a gig. None of the local bars are putting on music.

There's a sign on the wall outside the bar that says young Lawrence Of Arabia slept in one of the rooms upstairs when he was cycling through France. I think when we leave I'll put up a post-it note below, saying "here, for a few years in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby sang and played."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thank You, Ari

I know I shouldn't rely on the NY Times to be up to date or relevant, but I still look at the paper online - a reflex, maybe. Just like I perk up when I'm anywhere out there in the world and can pick up a copy. Maybe it's the familiarity factor - the font, the bylines I recognize from days of yore - my onetime hometown paper.

But I felt really disappointed, mad even, that they let a whole 2 days go by without mentioning the death of Ari Up. That is - Ari died on Oct. 20, on the 21st the British papers, every friend on Facebook, tweets and retweets of the news and - by late in the day of the 21st still nothing in the Times. How can a paper that tries to appear current, always with the articles about CMJ, even working rap artists into the crossword puzzles, have let that happen?

Maybe they didn't have an obituary ready to go for her, because punk never meant that much to the New York Times, or America in general, when it was happening. So they got a guy to do some patchy research and almost redeemed themselves by ending the piece with a quote from Vivien Goldman: “You cannot be a female artist on the wild side, very passionate and self-expressive, without being formed at least in part by Ari,” Ms. Goldman said. “In her feral 14-year-old way, she did represent a new archetype of womanhood.”

I had to be mad at somebody - it's a shock and it's not fair Ari Up dying so young, and they should have noticed sooner. If you don't know who she was, try this post by John Robb - not that I agree with everything he says (I saw what had been advertised as a Slits show a few years back and while I loved Ari's energy, it was a male pickup band and musically a let down...but still worth it to stand next to my daughter Hazel, a little younger than I was when I saw the Slits at Tier 3 back in 1979, completely enraptured, in love, as much with the idea of what was possible if you just got up there to express something, not looking like anyone's idea of what a girl should look like, not sounding like anyone's idea of what a girl should sound like. Made almost more powerful by the fact that Ari was now a woman in her 40s, cavorting around with crazy dreads and short shorts). But what he really captures is the effect The Slits had - visually and musically. I saw pictures of them for two years before hearing a note and was captivated - their messy hair, dark eye makeup, Ari with Jubilee underpants OVER leather trousers. There was no coyness. But it wasn't androgyny, the way Patti Smith could have been a girl or a guy - it was very female. Their album Cut came out sounding so accomplished and together but live at Tier 3 they still made enough of an ungodly racket to give us all hope.

So along with Ari Up's obituary in the Times yesterday, there was the most popular article - a woman of 55 declaring that it's okay to have long grey hair. She talked about the musical role models for women her age - Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell - and I thought "wow, here is a woman only FOUR years older than me and she missed it all." Did things really change that much from being 17 in 1973 to being 17 in 1977?

Yes, if you were lucky enough to hear about it.

Hilary Jaeger booked the Slits (and The Raincoats. And Y Pants. And Ut. And a lot of other groups all female, all male and in-between) into Tier 3 back when. She and her sister Angela brought Ari to see daughter Hazel play at a NYC bar last summer. The bartender wouldn't let Ari and Angela and Hilary in to the show - she carded them, demanding to see their IDs for proof they were old to be in a bar. After all, the drinking age in the US is 21.

I look at this picture and see these not-typical girls looking so cute and cool and Ari glowing and I'm glad I was one of the lucky ones and I laugh and cry...

Angela Jaeger, Hilary Jaeger, Karen McBurnie, Hazel Rigby, Ari Up

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


plastic letters

"I've learned some things, these years in France," I said to Eric.

"You couldn't drive a manual car when you got here," he said.

I put a chicken into the oven to roast. "Why, four years back, I couldn't even roast a chicken!"

I thought about all the other things I'd learned. How to speak French, the difference between brebis and chevre. I'd never heard of grèves and I thought France was all shabby chic and women with scarves tied just so. I had no idea there were so many kinds of slippers, or knives. That neon yellow safety vests are for driving, orange for hunters.

How to tell a baguette from a batard, a financier from a religieuse.

Survival skills, like drinking coffee black - not because it's more sophisticated but because most of the milk is that long shelf-life kind. I didn't know how to steam and scrape wallpaper, but that's a must to know if you're living in an old French house and don't want to walk around permanently depressed.

"You know one other thing I've learned?" I shouted, clomping into the kitchen with an armload of logs. "This time last year, I couldn't build a fire!"

But now I did it easily, the first fire of the season - piling the smaller bits of wood into the wood burner, planting fire lighters, getting it going and then adding bigger logs.

A few minutes later, when the thing was really roaring, the room started filling up with foul-smelling smoke.

I checked the chicken - that was fine. I opened the wood burner and it was perfect, like a picture from Country Living magazine. But the fumes were making me queasy. I walked outside, looking at the chimney silhouetted against the sky, to make sure the smoke was coming out alright.

Back inside, it smelled like a hazardous waste site. I looked at the side of the woodburner and screamed.

Plastic letters, like you put on a refrigerator, THANK YOU spelled out by friends in the summer. I'd looked at them just that morning and smiled. It hadn't occurred to me to take them down - now they were melting and burning, the cheery colors dripping and running together like something in a horror film.

And suddenly Eric was lunging in fearlessly with a paint scraper, removing the molten mess and flinging it onto a pile of newspaper.

But then I already knew he was my hero.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Education

France continues to confound, amuse, occasionally delight and frequently drive me nuts. I guess you could call it boot camp, for what I'm not exactly sure. It turns every assumption about the civilized world upside down - I used to think I was kind of cynical and worldly but I look back on those days of dewy innocence with a mixture of embarrassment and wonder. Four years in this place will do that to a person.

I remember how a few French words thrown together on a sign above a sandwich shop - Au Bon Pain - could add a touch of glamour and quality to a bagel in midtown or a cup of soup at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike. Just by association - "hey, it's French, it must have that something extra." I never thought I'd be in France wishing I could get anything as decent as an Au Bon Pain Chicken Caesar sandwich for lunch but that is the frequent reality here.

Today I was all excited because I finally visited a Leroy Merlin store and it was a lot closer to what I'd expected of France: style, color, pizazz. The main color, in addition to the bold black and white graphics on the outside of the store, was that "Play Misty For Me" late 60's/early 70's bright green that I love. The clerks were wearing tattersal-check shirts white with green, everything looking very smart. The prices were reasonable, the kitchen and bath displays weren't completely hideous, even the colors on the rows of paint cans had the depth and intensity of the vintage French fashion magazines I flipped for back at art school in the 70s.

The place had sprung up outside of Limoges in the last few months, alongside some other mall-type stores. Driving into the complex, we'd passed something called Cafe Madeline. A cafe, one would assume. It was next to a McDonald's.

"Why don't we go over there and have a coffee?" Eric said, after we'd bought some paint. We've been fixing the house up to make it more salable as it's dawned on us we can't make a living here without traveling at least twelve hours away.

"Isn't this civilized!" I said. "I mean, I know it's a mall but at least we can get what we need, have a snack and go home, without actually having to go into Limoges." A trip there usually leaves one or both of us deeply depressed or traumatized.

It wasn't looking good as I opened the door of Cafe Madeline. Where was the coffee bar part of the cafe, the one with the espresso machine? All I could see was a mall attempt at a fine dining experience - the decor was photographic murals of people eating in restaurants.

"Can we just get some coffee?" I asked the hostess who greeted us with menus in hand.

"No, it's a restaurant - for coffee, there's the McDo (Mac-Dough)." She gestured next door.

"But it says `cafe'!" Eric said. "We're in France, and you're sending us to a McDonald's for the coffee?" She looked bewildered so we left.

Emmanuel brought oysters fresh from Bretagne over last night. That was delightful. The crisp fall weather with bright blue sky is perfect. Recording is good, and writing. As long as I stay out of the stores, restaurants, garages, insurance offices, "cafes", Limoges - I'll be fine.

Oh and the library's okay - I like the library.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Just One More Thing"

I've had a tiny, achievable goal for a while - to own a wine glass. A long-stemmed glass, elegant. For that one or two drinks in the evening. I said I'd wait until there was a kitchen shelf capable of housing a glass like that, and there almost is so I broke down and bought one. At Tesco, for 50p. Carried it in its own "road case" as Eric called it (the cardboard caddy they were selling them in) for three weeks, in and out of hotel rooms even. Thrilled to my first glass at home - perching on the couch, glass in hand, no more generic jelly jar or that squat amber French nonbreakable glass. The fantasy was real.

And then today I broke the glass.

I'm sure I can find another. The car is another story. It really is gone. Stolen from outside the garage where it had been repaired. The garagiste is mortified. He may know who did it but he tried getting near the place and the dogs came after him and scared him off. He asked the local police and they told him they were afraid of the dogs too.

I made like Columbo today, hanging around the shop across the street from the garage, seeing what was up. In honesty the only similarity between me and Columbo is that I was wearing a raincoat. I heard people in the shop talking about how "no one will park near here now" and strained to make out more. It's true, there have been more cars stolen lately. But the people in the shop were chuckling about it - do they know something?

We've got a plan, maybe only in our heads, involving a gang of us and an ambulance and some very loudspeakers playing "Ride Of The Valkyries". And a cage with meat and tranquilizers.

And a toast to the prodigal Ford Escort, with a slightly sturdier wineglass.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Up and down. Down and up.

Down the road to Brighton, up the stairs with a load of equipment. Had a good time playing - the audience was subdued, respectful almost. Which made us worry a the UK they tend to get rowdy, loud. "You're doing fine!" someone shouted.

I'd worn a new old dress I'd picked up at a vintage shop in Norwich. Pleased to have something different to wear, something that hadn't been knocking around my suitcase for the last four months, something I hadn't seen myself in on YouTube, Facebook and mirrors in toilets before shows without dressing rooms. Ladies in the audience had given me some lovely compliments - it's usually the girls, not the guys, who comment on what you're wearing.

So we'd finished playing and packing up and I changed into whatever clothes I'd worn in the van all week. Sitting alone in the room with the last of our stuff and a guy stumbled in.

"You look A LOT better now than in what you were wearing before. That dress looks TERRIBLE. You shouldn't wear it ever again."

Like being slapped in the face. The ravings of a madman or the sage advice of a fashion expert? I mumbled something ineffective, like "other people thought it looked, umm, okay". What did it matter what this guy thought? He had what looked like a perm growing out. He was drunk. But like the lone bad review that sears itself into your brain, every critical word crisply echoing in your head for the rest of time while the positive press composts in a wet pile, his was the voice of authority, the one that says "You thought you were something, didn't you? Well you're WRONG."

Then he said he was looking for his hat.

I perked up. "A pork pie hat?" He nodded, excitedly. "I saw some guy leave with it a little while ago." His face fell and he lumbered out of the room, leaving me wondering.

Wondering why I'd tried to defend myself instead of just telling him to piss off.

Wondering why I hadn't told him that a man with a perm is in no position to offer fashion advice.

And smiling at the memory of the table of drunk people who'd picked his hat up off the floor and passed it around. "Hey, look at me! I'm a dork in a pork pie hat!" Low on the forehead, tilted back - they'd put that hat through its paces. "Take my picture, take my picture!" one of them had shouted. He'd leaned against the wall, glowering, the hat at a ridiculous jaunty angle. "Photo of a man in a stolen hat," he'd deadpanned, before they'd all fallen about laughing.

Did I wear the dress again?

Of course I did.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Most Wanted

Drove the opposite way through France from last week, took a nice stroll and had dinner in Dreux near where Eric used to live, then camped at Baie de Somme, a services we know well as it's the first one from after Calais. Just as we parked and were going to sleep, some crazy wind and rain moved in and the van was shaken and rattled around like a tin can back when there were tin cans. That made sleeping difficult but catching the ferry easy because I couldn't wait to get out of there in the morning.

Spent the first part of our drive north to Scotland going through the papers and realizing that the Pope's visit was eerily following our tour routing: Glasgow, Edinburgh and Birmingham (though he stuck a London date in between there, ours isn't until this Friday Sept. 24 at The Lexington).

We were supposed to check into a Premier Inn near Newcastle and do a phone interview and have a rest but the van broke down. We sat on the side of the A1 waiting for help for almost two hours. The phone ran out of credit while we were trying to give our coordinates to the assistance people but we were able to text our friend Lindsay in Scotland to buy us a top-up. While all this was going on the Scottish interviewer called.

"Cannae you talk now?" Another truck screams past. How many times have Eric and I, separately or together, been here? You know somehow the situation will resolve but it's not fun. Never were able to do that interview but it made for a sweet article.

Arrived in papal-free Edinburgh (he'd already moved on) and played at Citrus Club. Somebody told us they'd seen the pope going by on a street where there was no one, Benedict desperately looking around trying to catch somebody's, anybody's eye. The show was fun and like the last venue we played in Edinburgh was immediately adjacent to a Chinese restaurant. Knew we were really moving up in the world because it was possible to play without blasts of hot greasy air like last time.

Next night was Glasgow. I realized I'm truly a musician now, when my first words to the soundwoman after hello were "That load-in is a bastard." Yes! I have finally become a complaining git.

It's a nice club though, Stereo, and even though we played for almost two hours it felt like it was all over too fast. Then there was a club night coming in so we had to do the loading out super fast, with some help from our Scottish friends. Got back to Lindsay's realizing we hadn't eaten since midday - that is the reality of playing in some of the best cities in the world: you're so busy working you don't have time to enjoy the place, cause once you're packed up and out of the club where do you put the vehicle with all your equipment so you can sit down in a restaurant in the middle of a bustling city centre? Especially if you've recently had a car stolen - taking no chances we had classic cheese on toast back at Lindsay's and sat around catching up.

Wish we could've hung around in Scotland - in between Glasgow or Edinburgh, two of my favorite cities. Instead we had to head on down to Hyde. The promoter called and said the pub had been broken into the night before. He jokingly said maybe that would bring more people out, so they could get a look at the crime scene. We should have known right there it was going to be a tough night. From the barbed wire and old tires around the junkyard entrance next door, to the dogshit scattered across the astro-turfed pub "garden", to the load-in up a wet metal fire escape because the police were busy dusting the inside stairs for fingerprints, to the leftover scraps of astroturf covering the surface of the stage, to the panicky soundman, to the greasy yet sticky surface of everything in the place - it was hard not to feel depressed. You know you're in trouble when you look to the resident heckler for affirmation.

But next night was wonderful, Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham - like being in a weird aunt's living room. Odd garden furniture, slate on the floor and a relaxed feeling. We'd played there once before and saw familiar faces this time. It felt like everyone was on our side. The only thing that had changed was that the copy of Tim Rice's autobiography, a massive tome I'd used as a keyboard bench booster seat last time, was missing from the bookshelf. I had to make do with a hardback copy of Beach Music.

Now we're in the Norfolk countryside, taking a rest until Brighton, London and Manchester - tomorrow, Friday and Saturday (and Winchester on Tuesday). I often feel like Bonnie and Clyde where they hole up at CW Moss's dad's place when we stop for a few days out on the road. A couple of steps ahead of the law, somewhere on the sliding scale between doomed and most wanted.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two Steps Forward, Etc.

We had a nice visit with Marc Riley at BBC 6 Music on Wednesday. Then it was back in the van to drive down to catch the ferry. We camped at the port which allowed us the rare experience of being among the first in line when they start letting people check in.

We'd been scheduled to travel from Dover to Boulogne, but in the time we'd been in England that ferry had gone out of business. So now it was Newhaven to Dieppe. Dieppe's a pretty-looking town and the place was busy with shoppers. Seeing all the store windows full, displays of seafood and meat and pastries, delicious-looking cheese and flavored yogurts - Normandy has the food culture I wished and expected would be part of everyday life in France. It's a big country, and down in the Limousin we're sort of in Kansas.

It took another eight hours of Eric driving and me trying to think up scintillating conversational topics ("...and what was the second Dr. Feelgood album?" "How did Nick Lowe get his hair to look like that?" It doesn't take much to get full-length rockumentary going from Eric, just a few leading questions) to get home. Kind of crazy, considering we're leaving again tomorrow to do the same journey again, only all the way up to Scotland. But we had to come back, to:

- see the golden light at sunset in the Loire Valley

- check if Ratface, the evil checkout girl, had truly been fired from the local supermarker, as rumored. She was at the cash register yesterday, looking extra smug, like "I bet you thought you could get rid of me. Well you CAN'T."

- find a copy of the new Gil Rose et les Hydropathes album in the mail. Eric produced this very cool French group's new record. I got to sing on it.

- Pick up the next season of Cold Feet from the shelf, we are addicted.

- Get some warmer clothes. Still don't know what to wear on stage this fall. My summer dress is now a shapeless rag.

- Make sure the "rentrée" went off without a hitch. The predictability of French life can be quite comforting. The Festival of Wood will always be the 2nd Sunday of July. The Old Car Fair will always be the 2nd Sunday of September. The Celebration of Chestnuts - well, you get the idea.

- Get given hundreds of peaches and tomatoes by our neighbors. Then try to find people who aren't already laden with end-of-summer fruit to pass them on to.

- Be greeted with double kisses by the bank manager. This was before she saw the sorry state of our accounts.

- Have Sunday lunch with friends. Tomatoes, courgettes and parsley fresh from their garden, andouillette on the grill, tarte aux poires chocolat, Salers, red wine, champagne. Then tried to grout the bathroom tile.

- Pick up kitchen cabinet doors from Castorama, before they sent them back for fear of incurring "charges". Life in France is lived in avoidance of "charges".

- Find out the car had been stolen.

That last one, it wasn't planned. The car had been at the garage in a tiny village, where the very nice garagiste had made the necessary repairs for the old warhorse to pass its control. He thought we'd picked it up last week. We hadn't.

So it's back to work. We've still got the ambulance. Two steps forward, etc.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
Two-Way Family Favourites in the UK

Thu 16 Sept Citrus Club Edinburgh
Fri 17 Sept Stereo Glasgow
Sat 18 Sept The Verge Cheshire
Sun 19 Sept Kitchen Garden Birmingham
Thu 23 Sept Prince Albert Brighton
Fri 24 Sept The Lexington London N1
Sat 25 Sept The Met Bury
Tue 28 Sept The Railway Winchester

Come see us and pick up a copy of the new album. MOJO gives it 4 stars!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cheap Day Return

I went to Brighton the other day for no particular reason. I went to go somewhere, because the train ticket to London was too expensive. When we were up there last week I'd seen a poster in the tube station for an Alice Neel exhibit and thought how great it would be to see that. But between visiting the baby and camping at the beach and worrying about this and that I hadn't gotten it together to get the cheap fare.

But going to Brighton was perfect. The train ride was almost not long enough. I love taking the train in England - total immersion in the culture onboard (Tony Blair everywhere - his autobiography dissected in all the papers, his photo repeated so often that the other passengers started to look like him) and out the window a chance to see into people's back gardens. The train went through Newhaven, where Eric was born, near the ferry docks. It touched me to see it this way, that slightly melancholy feel looking at a place through a train window gives - that and the deserted Parker pen building where his father had worked.

Arriving at the train station in Brighton I will always feel 21 - the age I was the first time I went there. It will always feel exotic in the way certain shabby, slightly tawdry but mundane English things do...a fascination born the first time I saw a Rita Tushingham movie, or stared at a picture of a cigarette squashed out on a plate of eggs and chips in the booklet that came in my older brother's copy of Quadrophenia.

It's good to feel 21 again in Brighton because I think there may be a ban on being any older than that in the place. Everybody's young, in packs, the girls in shorts, big sunglasses, the boys in haircuts. It was so much easier than being in London - the pressure was off. I wasn't looking for culture or enlightenment, just eyeliner. It was fine to spend forty minutes in what must be Britain's largest Boots, a space age wonderland of cheap cosmetics. It was the sheer pleasure of anticipation going up the escalator to TK Maxx, only to ride down an hour later - not completely empty-handed but shaking my head that I'd missed that something special surely lurking underneath the shoes Made In China, size 32EEE bras and sad tattersall-check fedoras.

Around the corner I ate a delicious sandwich - at 4 PM. Thinking of France, where eating lunch out at whatever time you're hungry for it is generally impossible, I defiantly shook my bagel in the direction of the Channel - that's right, it's after 3 PM, I'm eating lunch. And there's other people here, doing the same thing. Deal with it.

I wandered around, drank a perfect espresso at a place I know from when we play just up the street at Prince Albert (next gig there is Thu Sept 23). There was an American couple, coffee afficionados in the way only Americans can be afficionados of things, talking to the barista about how of course they always warm the cup first, sipping suspiciously, like they wouldn't really be happy unless they found something a little bit wrong. Which they couldn't.

I was happy, sitting in a park, watching a young girl, a guy and a rolling suitcase act out a farewell scene. Tried to figure out who was doing the leaving - my money was on the suitcase. Drank a glass of Spanish rose at a picnic table on a sidewalk and started the first chapter of a charity shop book I knew immediately was a winner. The sun was going down, the streets were emptier. Looked down the hill, over the tops of the old buildings, towards the water. Sipped the wine. Was happy not to be 21 anymore, though the girl, like the charming old Brighton I remembered, was still in there somewhere.

Friday, August 27, 2010

In The Club

We set off for England with a brand-new, non-working dishwasher in the ambulance. Camped part of the way to the ferry near the beautiful town of Blois, on the banks of the Loire River. Too bad it was hard to find a decent boulangerie or cafe in the town when we tried to get breakfast the next morning - I hate to say I've come to expect disappointment when dealing with food and France. Without careful research and precision-planning I usually end up wishing we'd packed food and made our own pot of espresso in the van.

For the first time in several years they let me into the UK without a big fuss - I'd toed the line and got the family visa they insisted would make it simple. Uh, yeah - simple like back in the 18th or 19th century in that I can only travel if accompanied by a husband. Ah well, maybe being publicly referred to as chattel is the easiest way to a life of absolute leisure? Just don't tell Eric my plan.

England felt like a carnival wonderland - people! lights, shops open! We spent the night with Andy in Herne Bay - ate dinner and strolled around in Broadstairs. Interesting old seaside town, with Dickens' Bleak House up on a hill. Andy gave us the gossip on the guy who owns it now.

We found out the dishwasher is working after all! So now we've got a fully-functioning dishwasher, in the ambulance. Yes, in campgrounds people give us disdainful looks, moving their sleek behemoth campers away from our rusty heap, but we are smug in the knowledge that there's a fullsize dishwasher in ours. Not plugged in of course, just being used as an endtable/towel rack. We'll get it back to France eventually.

Rhythm Festival was fun, Coventry we had an amazing turnout. Blah blah blah - I could blab on about gigs and nice people and how the food has gotten very good in England, but looking back through my blogs and diaries of the last 20 years you can read that stuff any day (except the part about food in England). The big news is that Eric became a grandfather on Tuesday. His daughter Luci had an 8 lb 8 oz baby girl named Tiger-Mae. I feel so pleased to have shared this moment with Eric.

Just after we got the news (I say "got the news" as if we were busy doing other things but the truth is we were pacing the floor, street, wherever would have us anxiously waiting to hear) I was in the supermarket and the woman in front was telling the cashier she'd just been with her daughter who'd given birth that afternoon. "Harder going through it with your child than giving birth yourself", she said. I wanted to hug her, shout that we had sort of been through the same thing. I kept quiet, I'm only a step after all. But I felt like a brand-new honorary member of an elite club.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

He Lives

Filmmakers Stephen Kurowski and Marina Trammell were visiting us and captured the excitement of Chainsaw Man in action.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Going Up The Country

On Angela's last night visiting from the US, she and I traveled up north a few hours to meet some other American friends who'd kindly invited us to join them at a chateau/chambre d'hôte. France is a big country, with the landscape changing subtly and/or sometimes drastically from region to region. We drove to the north of the Limousin towards Bellac, where the rolling hills become steeper, the villages perched up on rocks. Then we cut across east to the autoroute (A20), passed the Pays D'Oil sign which means you've officially passed from the southern part of France to the north and exited near Chateauroux.

The immediate area was called La Brenne - flat with marshland, darker trees and lighter-looking soil. Following the GPS, I turned down a tiny road and was hurtling along at 30 miles an hour (okay, 30 feels fast to me on this type of road) when I saw a car stopped to the side (no shoulder) and a man standing there facing away from us. I slowed down and saw a little pickup truck stopped several yards further down the road and another man standing outside of it, looking in our direction. We thought it must be some kind of accident.

And then I noticed something lying in the middle of the road - a vague pink and light brown shape.

"Oh my God, Angela - one of them must've hit something!"

"What is it, a deer? A dog?"

"I don't know - maybe some kind of big bird? Oh, I think I see blood. I guess I have to drive past it. Oh shit, this is awful."

We rolled closer and as I got alongside the man, I could see he looked distraught.

"What is it?" I asked, afraid to look. He shook his head sadly and pointed towards the shape on the ground.

It was a bag of cement. The pink and brown bag had fallen out of the back of his truck and broken open with the impact. Half of it was spread across the road.

I offered my condolences and drove off. Looking in the rear view mirror I saw him and the other man pick up the bag, one man on each end, and carry it carefully back to the truck like a limp body.

You live in a place and think you've seen backward and then you realize there's a whole other level of nowhere. Maybe because the Limousin is the famous French back of beyond they've become rather sophisticated with that idea - pictures of cows and old peasant faces on postcards. No one's bothered to tell the area around Chateauroux that it's hicksville. First impression is that it lacks the determined downhome charm I've gotten used to further south.

My pals Kate and Scott, their two kids and a teenage friend traveling along were high on France, having just spent a wonderful week in Paris. We beat them to the chateau, and I immediately felt almost apologetic - what looked magic on a website was a little shabby and down at heel in real life. I don't know why I felt like it was my fault, but I think it's only fair that visitors be spared the reality of France, at least for six months or so. Then it can start to dawn on them that the food's often lousy, the clothes and home furnishings sometimes hideous, the town centers a mess of bollards and planters, ill-placed wrought iron fences, ugly 90's-inspired graphics and charmless "snack" places selling frozen pizza. But first you want them to see only the beauty.

Once we got over the shock, which included the son of the house mutely shaking his head "no", sending Kate away the first time she had knocked on the door and asked if this was, indeed, the chateau, we had a good time talking and drinking wine while we waited for dinner. The house was once a grand place, no doubt about it - a tall Creusoise-style brick beauty. We'd all had a gander at a dark wood dining room, almost formal, and having arranged via email to eat dinner there, pictured ourselves feasting like nobles.

The lady of the house was nice enough but hadn't been very forthcoming about how anything worked - just showed us to our rooms and poured some wine when we'd asked for it. The host, who'd been in frequent email contact with Kate, was not in evidence.

Around nine, Kate's son Hugh said "Mom, I'm hungry."

Kate explained that the people were preparing us a meal and to be patient. We all wondered what it would be. Something simple but expertly prepared no doubt. Country cooking with a twist? I'd seen the website - they'd mentioned homegrown veal, pork and beef from the Limousin.

Nine thirty came. Angela went up to peek into the kitchen. She came back outside looking concerned. "There's no cooking going on in there," she said. "Just the lady and kids sitting at a table eating dinner."

A half hour later I went in and asked didn't they get the email that we were planning to eat dinner here? She shrugged and gave us a xerox'ed and laminated menu, with prices handwritten, crossed out, written again. No veal, no pork - some salads, chops and pasta. Or croque monsieur. All nestled conveniently in the freezer, awaiting our commandes.

We groaned and gritted our teeth, knowing there was no other option. Ordered what we could. And it wasn't any worse than a lot of the restaurants I've eaten in near Limoges. The French fries were really good.

We kept wondering what had happened to our host. He'd seemed so hospitable and charming in the emails, but now he was missing. And the rooms we were supposed to be staying in were now "off limits".

Maybe the lady was keeping so much to herself because hubby was bound and gagged, or stuffed and mounted in one of the bedrooms? We spent all night listening for howls and screams.

Next morning, he called in from Luxembourg, still very much alive. He was alive but his car had broken down and was pronounced "morte" by the lady of the house. He explained that paying for the rooms by credit card was not possible.

"No problem," said Kate. "I'll just go into the village and use an ATM."

Turns out there'd been a vicious storm in the region back in January, which explained the fallen trees all over the property. We'd thought it had just been lack of funds to pay for landscaping help. The power lines were still impaired, so - no ATM.

It was possible, however, to go into another village and use a card in the bar/tabac. The bar owner would then fork over the cash.

I had to get Angela to the train station in Chateauroux. The last we saw of Kate and family they were heading to the village bar/tabac. I hope they made it out of there okay. It was probably difficult to get the bar owner's attention, what with the two guys telling how they rescued that half bag of cement.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Holiday


My friend Angela has been visiting from New York for the past week. She brought sunshine and great cooking skills. Before her it was Andy, carpenter supreme, with a dishwasher which is a dream come true if we could only get the thing to work. Before Andy it was Robert Rotifer who came to record. Today we'll visit with Kate and Scott from Chicago in a chateau up north. Later this week our friends Peter and Karen are coming from Norfolk, bringing my goddaughter Daisy. The stork (they still have those, right?) is coming any day to bring Eric's daughter Luci a baby girl.

It's turned out to be a really nice summer. In the past few weeks I've:
- Barbq'ed in the dark
- Swam in the lake
- Taken a few long bike rides
- Admired the nice new kitchen Eric and Andy put in
- Picked basil, purple potatoes and swiss chard from a friend's garden
- Sunbathed in the courtyard for the first time since we got here
- Ate steak off the grill for Sunday lunch
- Drank pastis in the taverne of Montbrun chateau
- Cooked spaghetti at 3 AM for Gil Rose et les Hyrdropathes
- Danced to the Flamin' Groovies in an empty auberge by a river

I've found my true calling at last - slacker.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Bois Of Summer

Jean-Luc looked at himself in the mirror. He admired his bleached blond crew cut, the way it bristled up slightly longer in the front. Smoothing his sleeveless black t-shirt, he tucked it smartly into tight black paramilitary trousers. Rubbed a little oil over his brown biceps, admiring the color, the grain - like wood. He smiled at his reflection, his short mustache catching the light. When had it started turning grey? He made a mental note - look into facial hair bleaching possibilities.

Outside the white van that served as his dressing room when he wasn't using it to haul supplies for his gardening business, the crowd was getting bigger. He cracked the door and peered out. Man, it was hot today. He surveyed the crowd - two hundred people maybe? More if you counted the children. Three hundred then.

He nodded at Scottish Brian, who was leaning against one of the P.A. speakers, talking to a lady. Brian helped him out sometimes at these things, but he tended to get distracted. Brian snapped to and strolled over to start the CD player.

The music pulsed out of the speakers: a loop of the intro to "Who Are You?". Jean-Luc jumped down from the back of the van and sauntered out. He strolled up to the first of the three chainsaws lying on the ground, grabbed the starter and pulled. It whirred into action. Over to the second bigger chainsaw. This one took a harder pull to get it going, but J-L got it just right, the mix of brawn and timing, making sure to dip his shoulder to get in a gratuitous bicep flex. Two chainsaws going and the intro music loop was about to run out - he rushed to the third and, all business, booted foot down, pull, on.

When the music changed he had to be ready, and he was. The first three chords of "Eye Of The Tiger" he planted himself in between the speakers, just to the right of a block of wood his own height. By the fourth chord, the first chainsaw was in his hand.

The audience was silent as he worked. Riveted - or maybe it was just the heat. By the end of Eye Of The Tiger he'd knocked out a curving shape from the rectangle of wood, kicking a few pieces of wood away with each slash of a guitar chord. Then he was onto the bigger, more powerful chainsaw. As "She's Like The Wind" came on, he stroked the wood and began hacking out big chunks, passionate, doing it with heart - like Swayze.

The anticipation was growing in the crowd. People began murmuring. What would it be? A voluptuous woman? The head of Johnny Hallyday? The shape of a mushroom? Those were very popular in this region.

A younger man without a shirt on strolled up and started shouting that he could do better. He gestured with a cup of beer and reached for the chainsaw. J-L pivoted it away from him, barking over his shoulder to Brian to intervene. Brian took the young man by the arm and led him back to his drunken friends.

Yngwie Malmsteen screeched through the speakers now as Jean-Luc grabbed the last chainsaw, the one with the longest, straightest blade. Sweat running down his face and arms, he pierced the wood, thrusting furiously but with absolute precision. As the music reached a crescendo he took three steps back, then ran forward, chainsaw fully extended and plunged it into the center of the piece. Hands at groin height, he rotated the saw as the guitars ground down and then, chainsaw hoisted aloft, stepped to the side and faced the audience.

The applause wasn't quite what he'd hoped for. People tilted their heads from side to side, trying to make out what the sculpture was. It might've been a woman - it had round parts and graceful parts, long bits and short ones. Did it really matter? Jean-Luc thought to himself. They'd all been there for the creation of the sculpture, collaborators in the moment. That's what it was really about.

Jean-Luc grabbed a microphone and thanked the people. He offered the sculpture for sale: 100 euros.

Brian took the mic and translated Jean-Luc's words into English. After all, there were many English people here. Probably a few Americans too. And face it, the outsiders were the ones most likely to get out their wallets.

No takers. Jean-Luc looked at his sculpture, admiring it. He felt pleased with what he'd done, but these hicks wouldn't know art if it bit them on the ass. He sighed.

He'd switched off the chainsaws but now he grabbed one and got it going again. The crowd was beginning to wander off to find shade, get cool drinks. J-L took one last loving glance at his work - then sliced the sculpture in half.

"For only 50 euros you can take home one of two spectacular artistic creations, made right here before your very eyes!" Brian's voice came through the speakers, his Glasgow accent still strong in spite of years spent in other places. "Do we have any art-lovers in the crowd?"

The two pieces of wood lay on the ground. Jean-Luc walked back to his white van. He toweled off and picked up the chainsaws. Tomorrow was Monday and there would be gardens, waiting or not waiting for him.

chainsaw man

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Morning After

morning after

Every day this summer feels like I'm recovering from the night before: first it was gigs, then jet lag, then the late nights with the band who were here recording and then the first summer visitors from America. Then it was the night of the bat.

Then it was Paris, where I trekked out to the western suburbs to stand in a broiling courtyard with people of many lands arguing with guards to be humane and let us into the (slightly cooler) building. When I finally entered what I thought would be an outpost of the British embassy, I realized it was just a company hired to take our passports and paperwork, put them in plastic bags, collect biometric information and then eject everyone back into the world without a passport, possibly having given up our identities for them to sell in another country. Maybe we were even now members of a new low-grade espionage ring to be called up at a later date - I'll let you know, or then again I won't.

Next it was the morning after my night in Paris, where I'd wandered the streets purposefully, seeing the YSL exhibit at Petit Palais, the Willy Ronis show at la Monnaie, eating at L'As du Falafel which really was as good as they say, and finally seeing "Taking Off", the Milos Forman film from 1971 which was very funny with some good musical surprises.

Where I used to have dreams of looking suitably chic in Paris, these days I've lowered my expectations to trying to at least not look completely Limousin rube, or like that American lady in the Alexander Payne segment ("14th Arrondissement") of "Paris Je T'Aime". Though in some ways she is my hero.

Today I'm recovering from our gig at the Site Corot last night. Held in an unused auberge in a lovely spot near a river, next to some old glove factories, it took five meetings and three months to organize. Many people showed up, having been told we were either a) a "rhythm & blues" group or b) country music. They stayed for about three songs and the rest of the set we played to our usual ten friends and the few assorted French people too polite to desert us. But the river made a nice sound and we still remembered how to play.

So it's a good tired.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bat, Man

I learned a new word in French last night - chauve-souris. Actually that's two words and I knew them separately as "bald" (chauve) and "mouse" (souris). Put them together - bat.

Last week we had visitors and sat outside every night, so it was no surprise that there are lots of bats around here: we watched them swooping and diving in the courtyard. And one got in the bedroom, briefly, which gave me a chance to practice my horror film scream, twice. I couldn't believe there was this cartoon-shape nightmare creature flying around the room.

My hero Eric shooed him (I don't know why I assume it was a guy) out and I figured it was an aberration - maybe we'd wailed on keyboard, guitar and wine bottle for a little too long and he/it was trying to escape and got disoriented.

But it happened again last night, and this time the thing decided to stay. Hunkered down, or up, on the wall in the front room. I hit the floor screaming, covering my head because there's some myth about bats tending to get tangled in hair. Eric tried to get it out the window while I cowered and then crawled on all fours to another room and barricaded myself in.

It wouldn't go. I tried to calm down and we did what anyone would do - went on the internet and searched "How To Get A Bat Out Of The House".

A more common problem than I thought, there were pages of advice. A lot of them mentioned rabies, and the possibility that in a state of unconsciousness, ie deep sleep, the worst could have happened to us and that is to be bitten by a bat.

Now I know we'd been watching a Neil Simon comedy from the 70's earlier but it had never been completely coma-inducing. Had we been bitten then, I guess there's the chance we would've both been infected with the unquenchable urge to speak in breezy repartee. But that wasn't happening, yet.

The American sites really pushed the fear aspect: "HAS THE SECURITY OF YOUR HOME BEEN BREACHED BY A WINGED INTRUDER?" shouted one. They all assumed the general public possesses near-expert falconry skills, directing us to "Don heavy-duty leather work gloves, preferably elbow length, and toss a towel, net or pillowcase over the bat, taking care not to disturb it, then carefully carry outside and set free. Whatever you do, you must get the bat out of your house."

I went on the French sites, thinking they'd take a more matter of fact view. But frequent mentions of la rage, rabies, didn't help.

Staring at the photos of cute, furry bats (trying to ignore the sharp, bared teeth) and reading why a wild winged mammal would leave the freedom of the great outdoors to come into a house, I calmed down a little. Amazingly, one site pinpointed a very specific time period - the middle of July to the middle of August - when young bats are learning to fly but have yet to develop navigational skills. I looked at the calendar: July 16. Ah! I began to feel more compassionate.

The bat had worked its way into a corner cupboard and was nestled in between a fake fur winter hat and a felt Stetson (or at least that's what Eric told me. I was still too terrified to look). He opened the windows, as suggested by the "Critter Catchers" site, turned out the lights and shut the door.

This morning the bat was gone.

And so was the Stetson.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hard Pruning



Three years ago, the first summer here, I was all gung ho about the prospect of having a garden. Simple, I thought - pull weeds, plant stuff. Then stand back and admire.

But gardening is insanely hard work. Time-consuming, bone-wearying. Then you go away and everything you worked on is all grown over and strangled with weeds and vines.

That's what I've learned - you can't walk away from a garden. You have to tend it carefully, be out there all the time working. Which is fine if you can pay someone else to do all your other work.

I've had such pleasure from the few roses that have managed to poke through the tangled mess. Pulling weeds gives momentary satisfaction. Aah, that looks better, that clear patch there. A real feeling of progress.

Turn around and there they are again.

In my mind, I'm wearing a floaty chiffon dress, platform espadrilles, a picture hat and soft clean gardening gloves as I snip a little here and there, and butterflies circle in the soft evening light.

In reality I'm hacking with a rusty scythe, shrieking as rose thorns pierce my arms and legs, spitting out pollen and shreds of grass.

I'd been looking at books and asking advice. Trying to cut this bush and that stem two buds down to encourage maximum growth. Our friend Mick informed us yesterday that tests done on rose bushes showed they grew exactly the same whether pruned carefully or cut with a chainsaw.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Load Out

I must be in France because it's eleven o'clock at night and still light out. It must be the Limousin because no cars have driven past in the last few hours. Drinking red wine and sifting through piles of receipts, business cards, set lists and a couple of parking tickets.

It was a month of hard touring - long drives, late nights, reasonable turnouts in most places. Nothing went too wrong! Except for not being able to sleep it was a good time.

Should I be recapping? I just don't have the energy. We saw some friends and family, enjoyed playing, sold records and ate well everywhere. Relished the friendly service in America. Loved the audiences except for one very talkative woman in Atlanta.

Now it's time to get "back to" something here. Wish I knew what. First I'll watch this Jackson Browne video. Substitute "me and Eric" for "roadies". And feel happy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Miss You

Saw Mick Jagger on Larry King Live the other night. God he sounded so phony, trying hard to appear to be a nice guy. Still, it was interesting when he talked about needing a huge audience to energize him, otherwise he wouldn't be able to perform. Sort of like the Suzanne Somers book about using hormones to animate a dormant sex drive...he should've tried playing with us in Minneapolis earlier that same night.

Now we're back in Chicago, resting for two days before we go to Detroit, then New Haven and Boston to finish up the tour. "Resting" meaning doing a radio show, replacing Eric's blown speaker, trying to send out the rest of our CD orders and, this being Chicago, eating everything in sight.

I wish I could sit down and write a recap of all the places we've been and people we've seen on this trip, but the Mexican restaurant down the street is calling - I think there's a large margarita with my name on it sitting there, salt glistening on the rim like the sweat on Mick's brow or Suzanne's heaving bosom.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Get Out Of Breath

The necks are off some of the guitars and the guitars are in the suitcases - good thing it's warm weather now because there's not a lot of room left for clothes in there. The CDs are almost ready, the downloads too, the cars and hotels and places to stay with friends arranged (for the first week anyway). We'll be seeing my entire family this weekend and I can't wait. We're on our way to catch a train to Paris and then a few flights to Cleveland, our spiritual home in the US.

We even managed to cut back some of the jungle growing in the back garden. Last night, around ten o'clock, Eric set a camera on a ladder in the courtyard and we sang a few songs. In the rush to get everything ready, I can forget what it is we're even doing it all for. We sang a PF Sloan song and a Jackie DeShannon one, into the French country air. The light was fading and the birds sang with us. I hope the neighbors didn't mind.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Definitely Going To Be There

Many years ago, I sat in a second or third grade classroom on Valentines Day with my decorated shoe box/mail box, hoping I wouldn't be the one with the least Valentines. Can I blame that memory for a lifetime spent wanting to be liked?

I often read about how contented some people become after the age of fifty - life gets better as they become less and less concerned with what other people think.

I want to get there, I really do. But how can I, when nowadays on any gig listing or ticket link, there's a box that tells you how many people are interested in your "event"? How many are planning on going?

It used to be you could put that kind of worry out of your head until walking into the club. A promoter might say "Hmm, ticket sales have been a little...slow. But don't worry - we'll get walkup!"

Or worse, the bar staff proclaiming, as you entered the club - "The phone has not stopped ringing all day! This show's going to be packed." At which point, you'd want to tell them, "Look, run home and get that copy of War and Peace you've been wanting some free time to get through - it's going to be a long, quiet night."

Is people ticking the "Yes, I'm Interested, Definitely!" box the today equivalent of calling the club in lieu of attending the show? Do less ticks actually bode well? Or should we be on the computer at all hours of the day and night, racking up imaginary fun concertgoers who want to tell the world weeks in advance that they're going to be at our show, unless something better comes along or it rains that day?

I like to think our audience are people with so many interesting pursuits and important jobs to do (brain surgery, Chipotle manager) they don't have time to trawl the internet registering their gig desires

The best would be to stay off the club sites completely, and oh how I wish I could. But then I'd miss all the cute surprises promoters plan for us - like putting our names wrong, or using a picture of Eric at 20 and me at 45, ("hmm, this mother and son act - now that's something you don't see every day! Where do I click to say I'm for sure going to be there?") Or putting a six-piece power pop band on the bill without mentioning it? Or having our show scheduled sometime near midnight on a Tuesday, after the prog rock extravaganza in the bigger venue outside?

I shouldn't focus on the negative - the majority of promoters work with us to try to do something that makes sense as a show, not just an attempt to get as many bodies in the door as possible. If we just wanted a packed club, dancing, singing along, laughing and crying at the memories, having the time of their lives, there's always the tribute band route. But you have to have at least been popular for a little while for that to work.

The thing is to work and keep working. Can't go out wearing a real or virtual sandwich board in every town and collar all potential audience members. Can't do everything, can't be everywhere at once.

Except, ideally, on record. I don't know whether I go out to play to let people know about a new record, or make new records so there's a reason to go out and play. But Wreckless Eric and I have a brand-new album we're putting out ourselves on June 1 - it's called Two-Way Family Favourites and is available here and at our upcoming shows. You don't have to tell us in advance that you're coming. Just be there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Situation Normal

It was a weekend of odd gigs. I've finally realized that any gig in France is an odd gig.

The first, at an Irish pub run by French people, in the city of Angoulême. We walked in and there were two huge TV screens going and some very focused men in sports jerseys watching rugby. The stage had a bodhran hanging on the wall, along with rusty instruments and photos and drawings of grizzled Irishmen enjoying a good craic.

Signs in French on the walls advised that in an Irish pub it is customary to walk up to the bar and order and pay for your drink and then take it to your seat. In France, even in the humblest bar or cafe, if you sit at a table the patron will come over and serve you.

The owners were sweet, demanding immediately that we "tu" rather than "vous" them. It was a little challenging, trying to do a soundcheck with a bar full of people - amazing how just being in the same room as a soundcheck turns the average man or woman into a qualified sound technician.

"The voices, is not loud enough? Your music, it's very good - but trop fort."

"This, over here, bring down. And that one, there - bring up. You see? You sing nice but those sounds get in the way."

"You play music?" This said as we stood there with guitars in hand. I wasn't sure if the guy was extremely dull-witted or just making a value judgment.

All of a sudden I was starving, and ran out to find a banana or something. I'd forgotten that it was a holiday in France - everything was closed, except cafes. I was starting to shake when I ran into Emmanuel on the street. He'd come to see us play. Angoulême is a pretty town and worth a visit, but probably better when the shops are open. Still, he helped me find a luxe patisserie and their clafoutis (a traditional baked cherry and custard treat) was the best I've tasted.

When we finished the soundcheck, the owner had set up a table for our dinner - huge thick slices of ham and pate, some Camembert, bread, and a massive bowl of frites. With a cute little pottery jug of red wine. Not exactly the healthy eating we've been aiming for, but it would have been rude to refuse.

Then Mickey our friend the French to English translator showed up and we went for drinks in a chic wine bar. Everything looked "chic" to me - I get used to the country bumpkin style in the deep country of the Limousin, where you rarely see big sunglasses and high heels...they'd look pretty out of place in the middle of a pasture.

The gig was us playing for about twenty interested people and the rest a parade of Saturday night revelers, varying in age from sixteen to sixty. Some would stroll past the stage, gape for a minute, then move on. Some cheered for a while, until it was time to go have a cigarette. There was an older gent who approached the stage politely to tell us we were very good but could we please play quieter, as he was having trouble conversing with his friends.

Two sets later, after ample hugs from the owners, the female half especially, who rumor has it was a "hostess" in North Africa in a former life, we drove through the moonlit countryside: past a few chateaux, a kooky lit-up antique car showroom in the unpronounceable La Rochefoucauld, villages and sleeping cows. Left the car full of equipment parked out front, for the next day when we'd be setting off early for another show - a record fair in Perigueux. Sunday...France...I made a plan to pack a banana.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

If You Knew Suze

razac bar
We're still rushing to get all the parts together for this album - I'm kind of embarrassed to say this is the first time I've ever actually put out a record without the help of a record company and it's a huge amount of work. There've been a few for-fans things I've copied and sold at shows and from my site, the 45 we pressed up a few months back too, but to try to coordinate the manufacturing, the downloadable album, the finances, the publicity, the licensing etc and cap it all off with a tour - have to keep calm and putting one foot in front of the other.

Took a break from it the other day for our anniversary and headed to the Dordogne to eat and spend the night at Rouge in Tocane Saint-Apre. I'd heard about this place from Kim and it was lovely - run by a NZ couple Paul and Janice who've resurrected an ancient building with their bare hands and have good food, a chambres d'hotes w/charming decor and a swimming pool.

Monday we went with Emmanuel to just outside Perigueux to see Graham Day & The Gaolers. The posters, calling them "The Goalers", had the concert starting at 7:30 PM - we rushed down there, arriving before the band themselves. In a search for something to eat, impossible in a small French town on a Monday evening, we ended up in a classic old bar. So often these days you walk into a bar or cafe and wonder what mid-century glories the proprietors trashed to achieve a decor of beige tile, smoked mirrors and taupe plastic, but this place was perfect.

Ever since I saw the art nouveau Salers bottle in a cafe and Emmanuel explained to me about gentiane and all its varieties, I've wanted to try it. Apparently it's very good for the digestion. What better place than a bar where the owners were so involved in a card game when we walked in, I wondered if maybe they didn't want to serve us. To the contrary - once the game had ended they plied us with drinks, helping me hit on the right combination of Suze, ice and pastis so that I am finally able to say I have tried gentiane.

Loved Graham Day and his group but can't say it was fun. Typical of concerts in France, everyone stands outside the antiseptic "salle" until the moment the group starts playing so there's no chance for any ambience to build. The second the music ends, the room empties. The DJ, Alain Feydri, played some very cool records but it felt disjointed, with the turntables set up in the room with the bar, the smokers standing out on the steps. Wished it could have all been combined, and I'd have thrown in the bar owners, their 50's moderne wallpaper and ancient telephone, and the Suze too.

I'm back to playing the computer keyboard now. Eric's making a new radio show downstairs - hooray! We will get this stuff done and be on that plane to the US in exactly...twenty days. Maybe I'll be toting a bottle of Suze or Salers - in lieu of a t-shirt, "I spent the last year in SW France and all I got was a new album, and this lousy bottle of digestif."

Monday, April 26, 2010

coup de fil

The phone rang, a not too frequent occurrence around here. The time difference, something - even my own family can't seem to get the coordinates right to reach me except via email. But the same goes for bill collectors so that's a plus.

It was Annie, the pilates instructor.

"Saw you and Eric on bikes yesterday, riding into the village."

And I was off. As the words spilled out, the most boring mundanities tumbling into the receiver, I realized I hadn't spoken but a few sentences to anyone except Eric in weeks. The dam had burst, but the reservoir was full of recycled lines from an especially dull episode of The Archers. "Yes, we're trying to get fit. Bike riding, walking, weights and no bread or dessert. It's so hard!"

Too polite to interrupt, she let me ramble on. "They've been putting gravel down on the sidewalks out front - it's been a nightmare. When are they going to finish the roadworks around here?"

"And it's still so cold! But the other day there was a beautiful blue sky and some sunshine. All the flowers are starting to come in, so that's nice."


"I mean, it's better than being sick - we've both had our fill of that this winter. And running out of fuel all the time."

Someone stop me, I thought. But I kept on. "Have you noticed the price of produce just keeps getting higher and higher? I spent four euros, that's right, four euros - on a barquette of strawberries yesterday."

She finally broke in to tell me she'd be starting up classes again. And that she had to go.

I hung up and opened the door to the studio. There was feedback, organs howling, tambourines shimmering, guitars and vocals careening around the room. Eric stood between the speakers, looking triumphant.

"Who was that?" he asked.

I just shuddered. Then climbed back into the time machine.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stuck Inside Of Ma Ville

I'll admit I've been obsessed with the ash cloud. It doesn't help that we're now trapped in a small village in France with no working automobile - the car's in the shop for a new exhaust system and the ambulance's suspension is so shot it's undriveable.

Oh wait, we've got two ancient bicycles, so that's something.

At least we're not stuck in an airport in Europe or the UK, trying to get...anywhere. Or a train station in France, though they say that strike is ending, for now.

I feel in limbo - afraid to mail anything to the US, and figuring it's pointless to get my mail sent over to me right now even though I know there's a check in there that I could use. And then there's the matter of a package that should be winging its way to me right now - are you ready? my glasses, the ones I thought I'd lost forever back in America last summer. Found, resurrected! The tracking information says, ominously, that they left US soil on April 17. After that, it's blank.

Finishing the record is imperative now, so I guess it's for the best we don't have a car to go anywhere. And the files can be transmitted via the internet, to be turned into records to sell on tour. But is there a wire we could slip ourselves into to get to America next month, if it comes to it? I was even checking on the Queen Mary. It sails from Southampton on May 15, and takes six days to reach New York. We could be just like my grandma and grandpa when they left the old country. Funny, the website doesn't show a price.

Janette, our neighbor who drives the real ambulance, said there's another volcano set to blow that's going to flood Holland and Belgium.

Jacky, another neighbor, sipped his Pernod at 11 am in the local cafe and said why would anyone ever leave the Limousin? It's perfectly placed to be out of the way of everything.

Oh, good.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today Piégut, Tomorrow The World

We're playing in a nearby tea shop tonight - the rise to glory follows shortly with a new album and tour dates (a few more to be added still):

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

Sat May 8 Le Kennedy Angouleme FRANCE
Sun May 9 Marché aux disques Perigueux FRANCE

Wed June 2 Lovin' Cup Rochester, NY, USA
Fri June 4 Bowery Electric New York, NY, USA (w/McGinty & White)
Sun June 6 Sixth St House Concert Media, PA, USA
Tue June 8 The Saint Asbury Park, NJ, USA
Wed June 9 Black Cat Washington DC, USA
Thu June 10 Berkeley Cafe Raleigh, NC, USA
Fri June 11 Star Bar Atlanta, GA, USA
Tue June 15 Mohawk Austin, TX, USA
Wed June 16 Bryan St. Tavern Dallas, TX, USA (w/Salim Nourallah)
Fri June 18 Schuba's Chicago, IL, USA (early show)
Thu June 24 Majestic Cafe Detroit, MI, USA
Fri June 25 Thunderbird Cafe Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Sat June 26 Cafe Nine New Haven, CT, USA

Fri Aug 20 Rhythm Festival Bedford, UK
Fri Aug 27 Grub Cafe East Grinstead, UK

I'll get back to updating the blog soon, we're finishing up the album in between rocking with pastis and scones.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Side-Lying Series

I was laying on my side at Pilates class, trying to relax and concentrate at the same time. Only problem was the lady next to me. Well, not her, but her shirt. It was a black band t-shirt, and with her back to me I could read a list of UK tour dates: Corn Exchange, Cambridge; UEA, Norwich; Colston Hall, Bristol. Nice venues. What group, I wondered. I had to wait until she turned onto her other side.

Australian Pink Floyd

I quickly rotated so she wouldn't think I was staring at her chest. Now it was even harder to breathe. Knowing that such a thing as Australian Pink Floyd exists is hard enough. That this group had toured all the way across the world, being welcomed into big halls in Great Britain, really made me wonder. And on top of all that, that someone would actually buy a shirt to commemorate the occasion.

I thought of talking to her about it. Maybe she'd just grabbed the nearest clean shirt. Maybe it had come from a charity shop where, in the heat of the moment, she or her husband had thought they'd snagged a genuine Pink Floyd t-shirt? Maybe she was having a laugh, wearing it ironically, like someone might have worn an Osmonds t-shirt back in the days when everyone didn't proudly admit they secretly love everything awful.

Or maybe it had been the best night of her life, seeing Australian Pink Floyd.

Damn, now I kind of want to see them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I was looking for a picture of Duane Jarvis, who died one year ago today. This is the only one I could find on my computer - I'm not sure who took it but I cropped it from a larger picture taken at the Bluebird in Nashville.

Please, please resist the urge to say something along the lines of "hmm - there's Townes Van Zandt looking over DJ's shoulder - I bet the two of them are having some laughs up there in heaven now, jamming together and making beautiful music." I can't stand that hokey idea of a great big music free for all in the sky.

But, thinking about Duane today, I can read something appropriate into the songwriter's songwriter gazing out as DJ bows his head and plays. Duane was a sweet and humble guy, and the same kind of musician - never wanting to get in the way, just underpinning, grooving along, being quietly supportive. I look at this picture and remember.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

I don't even know where to start to update this thing - all I know is I can't stand the sight of my last post at the top of the page any longer.

We're holed up with our friends Peter, Karen and Daisy in the Norfolk countryside. Like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow - we're battered, bruised, wounded. Not quite able to face the long drive south.

Ireland was cold. So cold that Eric burned his leg on a space heater, and was then too cold to notice how bad the burn was. He got food poisoning and laryngitis, I had all other manner of complaints. The ambulance, filled with a host of medications, was feeling like its old self again.

Ireland was depressing. Stuck in winter mode. There were unfinished apartment complexes and shopping malls everywhere. All the people in the service jobs are now Polish. Before we left, I'd had some great conversations with Irish journalists - that was almost the only talking with actual Irish people I did. For all the publicity we had, you'd think me and Eric playing was some kind of event - but articles, radio interviews and a TV appearance are not enough. The shows were really badly attended, the promoter so maudlin we ended up consoling him.

The people who did come told us they loved the show. We had some laughs and stayed in a nice hotel in Cork, after rejecting the cold water fleabag they initially sent us to - "But Pete Doherty stayed here!" shouted the desk clerk. When we caught the ferry from Belfast to Stranraer, I found myself writing down the phone number of the entertainment company that booked the onboard entertainment - a woman in her 60s who sang Patsy Cline and a man that whipped the Mother's Day crowd into a frenzy with "Danny Boy". At least you've got a built-in audience on the ferry. As an alternative to playing in a mostly empty club in Cork on a Thursday night, how bad could it be?

Should I be telling you this? I could just as well say we triumphed, that the shows sold out, and the Irish crowds carried us around the towns on their shoulders. Who's going to check? Or I could talk about the food (pizza) or the wonderful friends of Eric's that we stayed with, who train horses and who really made the visit for me.

We stopped off to visit our pal Lindsay Hutton in Scotland. Always relaxing staying with Lindsay. We sat back and waited for him to cue up a nice film for us. Along with a great Cramps collection he had a Fleshtones documentary - I'd just had a great time seeing them in Bergerac before leaving on the tour. In the movie they talked about how hard it was to keep going, playing for small crowds. "Wait a minute," I thought. "In Bergerac, there were probably two hundred people in the audience. At the rate we're going, we'll be lucky to play for that many people on the whole tour." We begged Lindsay to put on a cheerier film, like "Atonement" or "City of God" or something.

Things picked up in England - we started slow in Bristol and Portsmouth but Brighton was full and fun. Birmingham in the Garden Centre was a little odd but there was a line of people waiting in the rain to get in. A Black Country pub gig on Saturday night made Basingstoke last year look like a tea dance - our host Chris and his band were so warm I hardly noticed the drunk people shouting abuse and throwing things at us. I enjoyed playing simply because it was so bizarre and because it mattered to Chris. In the film version, we would've brought the audience around, to where they became hushed and reverent during Don't Ever Change and started swaying and singing Whole Wide World, arms aloft. A few actually did. But mostly they carried on drinking and simulating sex on the pool table.

Ten years ago I'd probably be looking online for haircutting classes or law school applications. But it starts to sink in that I may be too old to start over doing stuff like that. There is that Stena Lines ferry number to try. They take over-50's.

But. We played the first four tracks of our new album for Karen and she loved it - I started getting that hopeful excitement again, that same feeling that keeps me going. Hope or foolishness, or both. We've got a US tour coming together pretty well for June. Some English dates in August. The Garden Centre said they can fit us in again for October. And if we got the Stena ferry job, well we'd end up in Belfast anyway, so...