Author Archive for Don Lee
Day 4: Wednesday May 27th – We all got up, got ready, and headed to Sudbury Hill Station.
Took Piccadilly Line to Piccadilly Circus, had pastries and coffee at Whole Foods café.
Went back to “underground” to get tickets for the “over-ground” for tip outside the city.
After an hour plus train ride, we arrive at Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII Summer cottage.
This “cottage” is immense and very beautiful – although a lot of not so beautiful things have happened there.
Lots and lots of pictures were taken. Generally, a very relaxing day.
Took the over-ground train back to central London (we had to run to catch this one).
We were treated to a very fine vegan restaurant by 2 friends that Brian and Alicia previously met in New Zealand (they were also at our first UK show: Jon and Jean, who we had some great conversations with.
After about 3 hours in the restaurant, we took a train to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, it was closed, but we got some very good night shots. We started experimenting with moving the camera around and got some very cool laser-like effects, such as my favorite one where I got it to look like Big Ben was destroying some “intruder” on the ground. We did get briefly separated – at night, in downtown London – but we found each other and made it back to the hotel safely.
Back at the hotel, since we were back a little earlier than other nights, we had a very good hang-out session where we viewed/updated/posted to Facebook and were sharing each other’s stories and posts – a very fun way to end the day.
Day 5: Thursday May 28th – We knew our friends and fans would be disappointed if we didn’t do this… and we wanted very much to do it too. So we trekked out again in the morning and headed to Abbey Road Studios to make the famous crossing. A lot of people were doing this and there was a lot of traffic. We found some people (who btw were from America) who took a couple of pictures of us with our cameras, repeating the famous Beatles crossing, and of course we returned the favor. Pictures were a little blurry, but we got the pose right!
Had a quick late breakfast around noon-time (pastry and coffee). Brian and I went to the local chain store while Alicia and Arielle insisted on Starbucks across the street.
Took a train or two down to central London back to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
The line to get inside the Abbey was way too long, so after some purchases at the gift shop, we walked over The Westminster Bridge to The London Eye, which is an enormous Ferris wheel where we could get a great view of London from up high.
We’re now running late for our 3rd show in the Clapham section of south-east London. So we took 2 rush-hour underground trains back to Sudbury Hill (in north-west London), quickly changed clothes, and headed out with our instruments and other equipment to get to the show. We had to take 2 underground and 1 over-ground train to get to this show.
At our first train change, Brian and I got through one door with our equipment while Arielle and Alicia were pushed towards the next train door (it was rush-hour). As the train doors closed, Brian and I were shocked to see Arielle outside the train that was about to pull away. But Alicia, with her super-Wag strength, forced the doors open and we all made it together to our next stop. Actually, from my angle, it looked like Arielle put her bongos between the closing doors to hold them open. But I was told it didn’t exactly happen that way (lol).
Rise 46 was a very nice place, very posh. The area we were scheduled to play was in the basement with old brick and set up like a cozy jazz club. Got set up, did a quick sound check and then walked around Clapham looking for a place to eat – ending up in a Subway. We had two of our visiting friends join us. It was a really nice area on a very nice evening.
Back to the club to do the show. 2 full sets for tonight. There was a very loud group there the whole time that didn’t seem to be paying attention, and it did get a little distracting. But, luckily, we had a group of our travelling supporters that helped us out. Once again, we pulled out the secret weapon of Squeeze’s “Up The Junction”, which won the crowd over. In fact, it was that song where many of the upstairs patrons came down to the basement to see who this excellent band was.
Talked briefly with a lot of impressed people but had to run to catch the last train out of Clapham and back to our home base in Harrow. It was very late when we got back to the hotel, so we pretty much just conked out and went to bed. Tomorrow, we’d have to make the most of what would be our last full day in England.
Day 6: Friday May 29th – Tower of London Day. Most mornings we’d have a quick “on-the-run” breakfast or even just grab some breakfast bars so we could get on with the sight-seeing portion of the day. On our last full day in London, I insisted on having a full sit-down breakfast. Of course, it takes time to find a place we can all agree on, with 3 in the group being vegan. After a couple of attempts, we found a local pub in Earl’s Court that was serving breakfast (which also had vegan dishes). The atmosphere had a very “English” feel, even though our cute waitress was from The Czech Republic. And the chilly, rainy weather this day completed the scene… I quite liked it. Btw, this was the only “traditional” English weather day of the trip as the weather was very nice most of our time here.
Took a train to The Tower of London, which was a large complex of “towers” from different time periods.
I got into photo mode. Somewhere along our free-roaming tour, I became separated from the other 3.
A new rule was made to “keep an eye on Don so we don’t lose him”.
A late lunch at a very nice vegan restaurant. We then had to rush back to the hotel during rush hour and rush back out right away with our instruments and other equipment in tow (still during rush hour) to make it to our last gig of the trip. This one was the furthest from our hotel yet.
On our way to Cool Cats Café! We had to take 2 undergrounds and an over-ground train again for this gig. And this time, it was Alicia’s turn to almost get separated from the group. We weren’t 100% sure of the correct train, so when the train pulled in, she looked at the map. We thought she was right behind us when the doors were about to close and we see her running for the train. At this point, I used my Wag power to hold the doors open… OK, it didn’t exactly happen that way, but she did make it onto the train with us.
Off at the last train stop and asked “Siri” for walking directions to Cool Cats. She had us walking in circles for a while before we were guided through some housing projects and other interesting sites. The walk took over a half hour, but we made it to the gig on time. Cool Cats Café was a cozy little place with some great food. And I confirmed with the manager of the place that it was named after the famous Squeeze song.
There was a very talented jazz duo playing before us. We had a great response during our hour-long set, but had to quickly pack up and get back to the train station the second the show was over. Luckily, we had 3 great friends – Dawn, Andy, and Zoe – who were at just about every show this week (Dawn was at every show). Andy offered to take us and our equipment to the train station. There were tears from Dawn and Zoe (and even some from the band too) as we parted for the last time and drove off into the night. We made it to the last over-ground train in time. Now just 2 more trains and we’d be back at home base.
Underground train # 1, no problem. Now on our way to our main train, we had to walk through a very long tunnel – probably about a half a mile. As we could see the sign for our train a short distance away, a voice came over the intercom that said “the last Piccadilly Line train to Uxbridge will be leaving in 2 minutes”. We and about 30 other people started racing to the train. As we ran down the steps and turned a corner to get to our stop, we see that last train pulling away. What were we going to do now? We might have been stuck in Central London for the rest of the night! Luckily, we noticed there was another Piccadilly Line train coming in a few minutes. But this one was going to Heathrow Airport. But since now we were pros at the London Underground Service, we knew that we could get off at the Acton Town stop and possibly catch one last train to take us back to Sudbury Hill. Well, our gamble paid off and there was one last train. After our fun-filled travel adventure, we got back to the hotel to do some preliminary packing for our trip back to the States – which would be in less than 12 hours.
Day 7: The Trip Home – It was hard to believe that our trip would soon be over. We did so much in such a short period of time. And the best part about it was to be able to share the experience with great friends. But there were still even more experiences to come today.
Once we were packed up, we still had some errands to run.
We needed to drop off the rented instruments and decided to have breakfast at that vegan take out place that we ate at before our first gig the previous Sunday.
We got the hotel manager to allow us to leave our luggage at the hotel until 1PM (normally, check out time is 11AM).
Everything went according to schedule when we once again had a minor transportation issue. We didn’t think that the Underground would be crowded on a Saturday… but it was. There were so many people that we couldn’t fit on the train that would take us back to the hotel on time. We had to catch the next train that wouldn’t be coming for 20 minutes. When we pulled into our stop at Sudbury Hill, it was 1:10PM! Not only did we overstay our hotel time, but we had a car arriving to take us to the airport at 1:15PM – and I still wasn’t totally packed. So we ran as fast as we could from the station to the hotel. I ran up to the room. Arielle followed me to take the room key to Brian who was in the lobby to smooth things out with the manager, and I think Alicia saw how silly we looked running through the crowded street and just walked. But everything turned out fine and we were on our way to Heathrow Airport.
Everything went smoothly at the airport, through the check-in, and through security. Then we got the news that the plane would be delayed an hour or more. At one point I wandered off. When the plane came up on the board that it would be departing and I wasn’t there, Brian went to look for me. When I got back, I had to then go look for him – so now we were once again running late for the plane. And so we ran… we ran so far away (lol). It was about a 20 minute “run” to the gate. But we made it. My seat was not together with Arielle, Brian, and Alicia, but I did get to listen to the new Noel Gallagher and Carole King’s classic “Tapestry” albums as well as watch 2 very good movies on the plane: “The Imitation Game” and “Whiplash”.
Plane landed. We went through Customs. Jake was waiting outside and informed me that my registration sticker was expired. I drove us all home and the trip was over. What a great experience that was – so great that we decided to do it again next year. Until then…
I have no official ending, because I didn’t want it to end. So I hope you enjoyed this “short” story.
Now, I’m going to change it up a little. Since the description of our first day may have been a little wordy, I’m going to list the highlights (and some amusing moments) from each day:
Day 2: Monday May 25th – Take 40 minute tube ride into Earl’s Court area of London.
Every time Stonehenge is mentioned, Arielle and I would sing the first line of the Spinal Tap song with the same name.
Very nice area, breakfast was a coffee and pastry, go catch the tour bus to STONEHENGE (“where the demons dwell, where the banshees live and they do live well…”)
Ride was relaxing, was able to drift off several times to catch up on lost sleep.
Saw lots of old thatched roof houses on the way, lots of nice scenery.
Stopped at Avebury Henge, very impressive, tour guide Pat Shelley very informative.
Spent about 2 hours here where I took over 150 pictures at this site alone.
Off to “The Henge” as we called it, although Stonehenge is not really a henge… but Avebury is!
Take bus ride and walk to the site… breathtaking! The sun started coming out and we were privileged to be able to actually go inside (most are not). It’s amazing how the precise placing of massive stones originated over 4500 years ago!
After about 1 ½ hours at the site, take the bus ride back to London (a 2 ½ hour trip).
After a rest stop, I almost missed the bus, but Alicia came and got me. We made a mad dash and were safely on our way home (in my defense, the bus driver who I was having a long conversation with said I had enough time to purchase a bottle of water).
Back to the hotel where we chatted for a while; then Alicia, Brian, and Arielle updated their photos and statuses on Facebook (this was usually for an hour before bed).
Day 3: Tuesday May 26th – Buckingham Palace “Changing of the Guard” – couldn’t see much.
Go to Piccadilly Circus, take lots of pictures.
Find excellent vegan restaurant for lunch (courtesy of Pastor Matt).
Tube from central London back to hotel, quickly get ready for tonight’s show at Karamel.
Tube from hotel (Sudbury Hill) in northwest London to eastern edges of London via the Piccadilly Line (our main line). Now after 2 days of hearing a programmed but very pleasant female voice (with British accent, of course) informing us what rail line we were on and what the final destination of the line was, we were coming within 2 stops of it – but we had to get off prior to that last stop. The message: ”This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters”. That was usually followed by a male voice “Please mind the gap between the platform and the closing doors”. Yes, we will all miss those messages!
Arrive at gig, opening band is doing sound check, meet with friendly staff, have dinner.
We performed our set and most of the friends and fans of the first band stuck around to support us. From song #1, I had problems hitting the correct notes. The bright lights shone directly on the spots that indicated which fret number I was on. The spots would disappear and I was not used to this rented guitar. A very concerned Brian asked me after that first song “Are you OK?”, thinking I may be having a stroke or something. Eventually, I worked out a way around the problem and the set went fine. The reaction from the crowd was excellent! Another successful show on our British tour!
As we were talking to members of the audience, someone informed us that the trains only run until midnight (it was now 11:20PM). We quickly said our thank yous and ran out of the club with our instruments and other equipment in tow. We made the 2nd to last train within 3 minutes of arriving at the station. Luckily, we only had one tube line for this excursion (yes, The Piccadilly Line). The next 2 gigs would be a different story.
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!