Departure Day: Saturday June 23rd – Guess who’s running late? In my defense, I had so many musical and other activities recently that there wasn’t much time to even think about what needed to be done for my first vacation in many years – which would also be our first band international tour!
I picked up Arielle Strauss from her house (hey, that rhymes) and we arrived back at my place to find Alicia Van Sant and Brian Ostering patiently awaiting my return. I told them not to be alarmed when they walked in to see all of my clothes, CDs, and other items I was taking on our trip sprawled out on the living room floor with my luggage only half packed. But we all chipped in and within a short time were ready to go (it’s all about teamwork, people).
My nephew, Jake Lee, would be taking us in my car to the airport. But I decided to drive on the way up. The band was worried that we wouldn’t be up there the required 3 hours before departure, but I got us there 20 minutes earlier than that. To our surprise, the lines were very light for the Memorial Day weekend. We went through security relatively quickly, with me being the only one who required an additional search. We then settled into our 2-plus hour wait to board the plane. We used this time to get some extremely overpriced quick food to hold us over until we arrived in London.
The plane experience on Virgin Atlantic was great. We all were able to sit together and were very excited about the events for the upcoming week. Unbeknownst to us, they actually had several meals during the trip, so we could have saved some cash earlier. They also had movies, music, and flight info/status maps on the back of the seat in front of you. I watched “Ex-Machina” on the way out when my cohorts appeared to be sleeping. I think I only got about 2 hours of sleep during the flight, which would prove “interesting” during our next day of fun filled activities.
Day 1: Sunday June 24th – For a person who has not been on a plane in over a decade, it was amazing to see the well-manicured English landscape as we got closer and closer to our destination of Heathrow Airport. With my iPhone out, I would document the descent to what would be our first international mini-tour. We landed safely and exited the plane. When we officially crossed the line into the United Kingdom, there was a piano set up for whoever wanted to play it. Brian proceeded to play The Beatles’ “Let It Be”, a snippet of Traffic’s “Freedom Rider” was done by yours truly, and classical piece played by Alicia for which I don’t know the title (edited by Alicia to add: it was Pachelbel’s Canon in D). Arielle kept on singing a line from Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” as we would be visiting there the following day. The musical spirit of The Wag had arrived in the UK!
Next, make it through Customs, pick up luggage, search for our driver from the car service – we eventually found him. Both Brian and I got into the wrong side of the car – steering wheel is on the left in the UK you know… but the girls got it right. The ride was very relaxing and I was able to drift off for a few minutes. We arrived at the hotel and dropped off our luggage, as our room was not yet ready. We decided to take a walk down the street to get a quick bite to eat at an English bakery. When Brian was paying for his purchase (which I believe was 1 pound and 2 cents), the cashier asked him “Do you have 2p?” Brian gave her a quizzical look and responded “Do I have to pee?… No, I went at the hotel.” She returned with “No, do you have 2p?”, meaning “2 pence” so she didn’t have to give him a bunch of change back. We quickly figured out Britain’s monetary system, of which there are no bills smaller than 5 pounds (that’s British monetary pounds, of course).
We continued our walk down to the Tube station (subway) and made what was perhaps our best investment of the entire trip: our Oyster passes for the week. This would allow us to use the Tube service without having to buy individual fares each time we needed to use a train – and we would use the hell out of those passes! We then returned to our hotel which was only a five minute walk away. Not the nicest hotel in London, but it suited our needs fine – after all, we are a band on a budget.
There wasn’t much time to rest. We needed to pick up our music equipment rentals, and the store was closing soon. So we quickly unpacked, got dressed for our first show in the UK and headed for the Sudbury Hill tube station, which is in The Harrow section in northwest London. We were on the outskirts of London, which is an enormously huge city. So you have to understand that going to some of our destinations would be the equivalent of taking a few connecting subway lines from Jamaica, Queens (NYC) to get to Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. Of course, we had no stadium gigs, but we did see Wembley Stadium off in the distance on our train ride before the train officially went underground.
After a while, my lack of sleep on the plane caught up with me, so I dozed off on our ride to central London. The ride took about an hour, during half of which which I had a much-needed nap. Remarkably, it was easier for me to sleep on the train than on the plane. We exited the underground and started off to the instrument rental place. We were supposedly close, but we got lost, so 5 minutes turned into 25 minutes. We arrived just before the place was closing, but the staff was very friendly and accommodating.
Our rented instruments were in extra heavy cases – especially Brian’s bass which was housed in an all metal keyboard case. This would prove detrimental on our trek to a vegan restaurant that Alicia found on some iPhone app. It was a lot longer walk than we thought. Brian and I had to keep stopping due to the weight of the instruments and other equipment we were carrying. We both kept on seeing Alicia and Arielle get further and further ahead of us. Walking fast on hard pavement while carrying lots of equipment, I could feel a blister or two starting to form, but we eventually caught up with them.
The restaurant was a little storefront place with no seating, so we sat on a window ledge outside. I’m not vegan, but the rest of my cohorts are, so for most of the trip, I took part and joined in. And for our first official meal in the UK, the food was very good. We decided to stop back there are the end of our trip – which would now be 6 days away.
No time to waste now! We had to get to the nearest Tube station and take a train to our first gig: Dirty Dicks in the Bishopsgate section of central London. The area was very nice looking. Our venue was made with old, very dark, brick. Apparently, Dirty Dick’s is the oldest pub in London which still operates today.
When we arrived, we were told that we would be performing in the basement. When we got down there, we were the only ones there and wondered if we’d be able to pull people off of the street to listen to us. The stage was small and the PA only had 2 vocal microphones (we generally use 3). Our spirits were lifted when people started showing up a short time later. Word went out in the States to friends in the UK that wanted to see us, and several showed up. Our longtime Facebook friends Dawn, Zoe, and Andy who live up north actually took a week-long vacation just to see us! There were also people that heard there would be a good live entertainment, so they came to see what it was all about. We got to meet and talk to a lot of people before we began the performance.
It’s showtime! You never know how people who aren’t familiar with your music will respond. Usually, you expect the worst but hope for the best. Well, right from song number 1 the crowd reaction was as good as any we could have hoped for. And it got better as the night progressed. Near the end of our first set, Norda Mullen, who is the touring flautist with The Moody Blues, joined us on stage. She didn’t have her flute, but she played tambourine, sang some backup vocals, and looked like she was having the time of her life. Her husband bought me my first beer in England (It was a London Stout – and it was good).
During our break, we hung out and talked with the audience. I was told that a lot of British bands don’t do that, so the audience was very appreciative. Even though the bulk of our performance would be original songs, we did a few covers. It was during this break that I mentioned we started performing a Squeeze tune that was legendary in England and mentioned a certain railway station that we would pass through later that week – Clapham Junction. Brian was a little wary about playing it because some of the chord changes were tricky and we hadn’t rehearsed it very much, but Norda’s husband persuaded him to give it a shot in the next set. That song, “Up The Junction,” was the runaway hit of the night, so we decided to play it at 2 more of our shows.
Set number 2 was over. The reaction was phenomenal, and all of my tiredness had disappeared – for the moment. We continued hanging out and talking with some old and some new friends. One of those new friends was actually e-mailed by a DJ friend of ours in New Jersey (Scott Einhorn) requesting that he come to the show. The guy’s name was Ashley, and he offered to drive us and our equipment back to the hotel. That was extremely nice of him because it was about an hour’s ride. It really saved us a lot of stress trying to get back there ourselves late on a Sunday night.
We went back to our hotel room and we were all still hyped up from the gig, although we were also exhausted. Alicia said she felt “beat up” – that’s a sign of a good gig. She, Arielle, and Brian were all posting photos they’d taken on their phones. I used my regular camera, so was just talking instead (I’m very good at that). One by one they drifted off into sleep, and the final “Don – go to bed!” was said. Tomorrow (which was already today) we go to Stonehenge!