30th September, 2014
We leave the Twin Cities early and are in the sticks in no time. We look at the map and follow a long straight line to Kansas City where we are stopping over en route to Dallas. The highway bears us over shallow inclines through fields of cereal without deviation for four hundred miles. South of Des Moines in Iowa it gets a bit more scrubby and wild. As we head south we leave all signs of autumn behind and are frequently tracked by Vs of ducks flying alongside like banners.
Kansas City suddenly appears on the horizon like a tombstone in the sun. The hotel, The Aladdin, is a beautiful Art Deco structure built in 1925 and my room on the 11th floor has windows on two sides and is remarkably smartly decorated for a Holiday Inn. The…—More Tales
29th September, 2014
We cross the Mississippi four times, once in, once out and twice in the course of going out. It astonishes me that the river still has the power to carve a city in two so far from the sea. One end might sit in the icy chill of frozen Minnesota while the delta sweats and oozes into the Gulf of Mexico more than a thousand miles south. Minneapolis has a strange personality. She is twins so perhaps that’s to be expected. As we roll in from Chicago we see streets thronged with sandal and shorted mobs. It’s Saturday and unseasonably warm. Everyone is out making hay. Any day now a front could come in from the north and there won’t be a soul to be seen on the street. It always strikes me as a very clean place, as if the hellish winters scour…—More Tales
26th September, 2014
Why do we wave to people on boats? I’m sitting under a high sun by the Chicago river beginning to roast in jeans and a black shirt. I give a casual little flutter of the fingers of my right hand, my arm hanging nonchalantly across a park bench. A blonde woman in big sunglasses waves back from the pleasure cruiser slipping past my vantage point. The sun is beating at me, really hammering. A sparrow drops by for a morsel I do not have, hopping around my boots with its back to me, keeping one eye on the chance of a flung breadcrumb. I’m not in the habit of carrying breadcrumbs. I don’t need a reputation as a groomer.
This city has been the scene of much debauchery for me. Chicago was often the gig you did about a month in, when the madness descends.…—More Tales
25th September, 2014
We escape the clutches of the city early in the morning, all the heavy traffic on the opposite carriageway. Once through the gauntlet of New Jersey’s chemical industry we’re in the endless woods of Pennsylvania. Fall is in first flame, the yellows and russets spreading through the forest like a rash. Coming around some bends the whole horizon is afire in the angled morning sun. It’s nearly four hours before we see a clearing – a farmstead set in an emerald meadow. The route has a mesmerising monotony. It’s a kind of Appalachian Amazonia. We stop for breakfast and luxuriate in the changed pace, the rural folksiness, the twang in the accents. In a matter of hours we have arrived in a different universe still confederated under the same oath and flag.
Road and more road. To get across Pennsylvania alone it takes six hours.…—More Tales
24th September, 2014
We take a leisurely amble down the 95 to Philly and seem to drive straight into the gig without deviation. The pale blue sky is tiered with those puffy white clouds from the opening credits of The Simpsons. I’ve done this tiny venue, The Tin Angel, before. It’s a charming long narrow room with a very tight stage down at the opposite end from the bar where the toilets are. People have to file past you during the show when they need to micturate. It’s good to make fun of them.
We’re done soundchecking by seven and I go out to mosey around the vicinity. I rummage around a second-hand shop but it’s all a bit precious. The word “vintage” gets bandied about as if old clothes mature like wine. I only wear used things because most modern clobber is so repulsive and badly made,…—More Tales
22nd September, 2014
Around lunchtime I take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge dodging through the streams of tourists on their Bloomberg bikes. I cross the narrow tip of the island to the west side and seat myself in a restaurant on a corner looking onto a small park. The new One World Trade Centre looms over me, its pointed hat in the clouds. I can’t fathom its scale at all. For all its claim to be the highest in the Western Hemisphere it looks more like a chubby than a stauner to me. My table offers a strategic people-watching panorama. An ancient Chinese woman sifts through a garbage basket, her trove of refundable cans and bottles in an enormous plastic bag at the end of a pole (with a counterweight at the other) that she balances on her shoulder. A twenty-something couple straight out of a…—More Tales
21st September, 2014
Onward up the eastern seaboard we go, the weather consistently glorious. Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey. We pass Baltimore’s scrappy skyline and skip across wide inlets densely forested on each bank. I imagine the fear and wonder of the Europeans sailing up these rivers into the unknown in the 16th century. We twist around the base of Manhattan, spotting emerald Liberty from the arc of the Verrazano Narrows bridge. The great “fuck-you” of Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of ground zero, ugly and crass compared to the streamlined simplicity of the twins it replaces. It’s odd to be driving straight into Brooklyn and not setting foot on the island. I may walk over the bridge tomorrow to rub Manhattan’s monumental grandeur into my eyes. The gig is surrounded by a swarm of hipster dipsticks, pushing prams and tousling each other’s angled fringes. I…—More Tales
20th September, 2014
I awake to the tragedy of my own people rejecting radical change to cling to the false security of the last flotsam from the shipwreck of the British Empire. I am tuned to BBC Radio London and the glee and jubilation of the powerful spouting forth from the radio is suffocating. I cannot deny that I am very angry. I was angry last night when I saw the way it was going and I am angry this morning in the harsh light of the result and I’ll be angry when I go home. I feel like the hope just got kicked out of me. I feel like I am being held down by a gang of victorious sports fans because I am wearing the wrong colour, walking down the wrong street and have been singing the wrong song. The surprising flame of Scots radicalism…—More Tales
19th September, 2014
We are out of Cleveland by 9am, pale blue skies above. There are three tasks to be completed today. A live performance on radio, getting me a US social security number and finding a nut wrench to loosen the truss rod of my Taylor. Ooh, missus. It’s enough to make Rod Taylor blush. If he weren’t long dead, pecked to death by deranged birds. Pittsburgh is the destination, a city I last visited in the early nineties for some outdoor radio event. The most recent proper gig I did there was 1986. It was the Electric Banana as I remember and we stayed with a Dels fan’s parents in suburbia. I have unforgivably forgotten her name but I do have a photograph somewhere of me and our guitarist, Brian eating out of a dog bowl on all fours wearing pet collars. It was near…—More Tales
17th September, 2014
I am sorry to be leaving Nashville. After last night’s show a pleasant bevy of friends and acquaintances coalesced around the backstage zone exchanging gossip and news. The dressing room grapevine. People here are very interested in the Scottish Situation. We endeavour to explain and quickly figure out that it’s easiest just to wait for them to ask, “So you wanna be like Canada?” Yes, that’s pretty much it. The disillusionment with domestic politics is so extreme here now that this makes perfect sense to them.
We pull out of town at 9am and are straight onto the freeway. Within an hour we’re in Kentucky passing through rolling pasture studded with copses and the odd little cornfield. There is the vaguest blush of autumnal bruising staining the trees and the sun breaks through exposing high maps of thin clouds above. We pass a Glasgow and…—More Tales
15th September, 2014
We lift out through thin fog and reach over Islay’s inner seas, the island glistening in the September sun, its bays and beaches deserted and beautiful below us. We leave Scotland in the light, a land hovering between shadow and something else, staring into its Celtic soul and asking: to be or not to be?
I’m headed west to America with my trusted lieutenant, Mr. Niz at my side, so I am “we” and we are “me” and we are all together.
Over the Atlantic we cruise in our tin-can tube of Boeing, the ocean rippling out beyond, somewhere lapping at the coast of a Carolina or two. Within a few hours I’m gazing down on endless schools of icebergs carving their way south. We are, as Joni Mitchell sang, at icy altitudes. With the trolleys stowed and the crew at rest after service the only…—More Tales