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."