Our flight left at 7 PM for a 7 AM landing with a gig that night, so it would have quite behooved us to catch some sleep by whatever means possible, but it was not in the cards for the Pills. I actually dozed off about 10 minutes before landing, but awoke with a screech of tire on tarmac and exited the plane extremely freaked out- always a good way to go through customs when one is without work permits and smuggling large amounts of merchandise.. Luckily, they interpreted my red- eyed jittery behavior as American bravado and there was no problem.
It should be noted that Aaronoff bet me $50 that I would not wear a Bob Seger pin for the entire tour, and Cory upped it another $50 (not in the band anymore, still making silly bets), so I am proudly wearing a fine portrait of the rocker I dislike the most. I will win this $100, trust me. I’m practicing saying, “You should hear his first album” and “I’m just keeping it real.”
Dave Thompson flew in the night before us so Matt B, Aaronoff and I hop on the long-ass tube ride from Heathrow- about 45 minutes to Euston. God bless Priceline because I have secured us two 4 star hotel rooms for $80 each. May as well start the tour in style, right? The hotel is one of those big corporate ones, but it’s right next to the British Library which house the manuscript room. Matt’s never been to the UK before, so it’s cool to show him this amazing collection: the original handwritten version of “Alice In Wonderland”, the Magna Carta, pages from Da Vinci’s notebooks (including a grocery list next to what I can only assume is some heavy duty mathematical formula), original Beatles lyrics, a ton of rare manuscripts.
We catch a brief rest at the hotel, hook up with Thompson and head off to our first gig: The Dirty Water Club in Tufnell Park, North London. Run by an absolute stellar human named PJ, this series of garage and mod shows is held in the back room of the Boston Arms pub and is right around the corner from where Aaronoff lived in London for about 6 months in the early 90s. We are set to open for the Barracuda’s with special guest Chris Wilson from the Flaming Groovies. It’s a rather large room and we are meant to go on at 9, so I’m not expecting much, but it turns out to be an excellent first show. We’re borrowing gear for the whole tour and beggars can’t be choosers, but I’m quite pleased to see a large Hiwatt bass amp on my side of the stage. It sounds like a friggin’ Panzer division, too. Me likey loud bass.
About 300 of London’s sharpest turn up early enough to catch the Pills. It’s a great crowd and they respond with a mighty sound at the end of every number. Quite frankly, it’s fabulous, the night of my life. I very humbly mention that we are sincerely excited to be playing in London, that most of our favorite bands are from here and that it means a lot to us and they respond graciously. After the set, we sell just loads of merch. T-shirts, CDs, 45s, they are all flying off of our merch table and we meet some great people. Liam from Toerag Studios is there (he recorded the last White Stripes album) and Chris from the Flaming Groovies is very encouraging. He is absolutely great when he gets up with the Barracudas- playing some giant Gibson electric guitar that sounds like a monster.
Of course, no matter where you go, the opening band has to wait until the bitter end to get paid. We’re all way jetlagged at this point, so Aaronoff and MattB head off to find the night bus back to Euston and Thompson and I stick around. Side note: on the way back, MattB was horrified when a guy on the upper deck of the bus asked” Are you cold? I’m so old…on the inside.” And started smoking crack next to him. Back at the Dirty Water I was watching pretty girls dance to “Shake Some Action” and thinking I’d found my place in the universe. We stuck around until 2 AM and got our hundred pounds and head out. As I stumbled drunk and exhausted back into the hotel, the Seger pin falls off and rolls behind a couch in the hotel lobby. Thompson heads up to the room as I start moving furniture.
After the traditional GIANT ENGLISH BREAKFAST with beans
and sausages and stewed tomatoes and mushrooms and eggs and 7 piece of
toast, we head
off to Abbey Rd.
for the obligatory photo (well, you have to, don’t you?) and for a good
stare at the studio, and then it’s on the train to Coggeshall in Essex
. This is a whole other kettle of wax- the archetypical green, leafy small English
village with narrow lanes. We get picked up by Russell, Aaronoff’s old
partner in rockabilly, and pile into his plumbing van (MattB has wandering hands).
He drives us past the duck pond and through the cobbled lanes to the local parish
hall, which they’ve rented out for tonight. It’s a completely D.I.Y.
affair- they’ve rented the hall, printed tickets, set up a PA and put posters
on every flat surface in the village. In fact, we see our faces staring out from
all the shop windows next to a poster for a village fete’ the following
weekend promising “Hold a Live Owl.”- Kind of puts things in perspective,
Russell highly advised us to do some covers and we pulled a fine selection straight out of our asses- Suffragette City, Paperback Writer, Twist & Shout, American Girl, I Saw Her Standing There. A little 8-year-old girl came up and asked for some Clash so we unleashed Aaronoff on “Train In Vain”. We played “Just My Imagination” so some of the older people could get a slow dance in. Also, there was a beautiful Pills backdrop that a guy called “Dave The Mod” had made for us, so we played “The Kids Are Alright” for him. We also did 6 or 7 originals and after the set we sold almost all the merch we had left. There are goats walking around Coggeshall with Pills T-Shirts. It was a great show; everybody danced and had a good time. Let’s see that owl top that!
We went back to Russell and Jacqui’s place with some of his friends and had a great time chatting and drinking. I crawled off to sleep in his “sun room” – so named because the sun itself inhabits that space at about 5: 30 every morning. I dragged my moaning, Brundel-fly self into the living room where MattB stopped snoring long enough to yell at me for doing the same. Very soon after, Russell and Jacqui’s kids: Laura (10) and Aaron (6 and deadly with an inflatable hammer) woke up and came in to play. MattB gave Aaron a dollar bill and he pointed at George Washington and asked, “Is that your king?” MattB was highly amused and said “We don’t have a king” and Aaron said “Is that your vicar, then?” “That’s my vicar,” said MattB- and that became the phrase of the tour. We used it as an interjection at the end of a story, like "Bob's yer uncle" or bada bing".
Again, the giant breakfast and we had a lovely morning watching the Scooby Doo video with the kids. We all agreed that Buffy did a great job and that we like Shaggy the best. After lunch, we hopped a train back to London, took the tube from Euston to Paddington and then jumped another train to Swindon.
People do ask you about touring. There’s usually a guy in the men’s room (um, that’s dressing room, ok?) who sees you balanced with one foot on the dry spot next to the puddle of piss, trying to change your pants, who says “So, what? You guys just ride around and play shows?” and you can tell that he thinks it sounds great so you don’t want to depress him with talk of day jobs and just about breaking even, so you let him think it’s amazing.
Swindon, by the way, was amazing. Our hosts were legendary Boston music fans David and Rachel. They’ve been over 7 times to see their favorite Boston bands: the Gravel Pit, Gigolo Aunts, Gentlemen -- the whole Q Division scene, really. David even has a Gravel Pit tattoo. They totally hooked us up -- renting a pub, hiring a PA, printing up tickets and posters -- what have you done for Boston rock lately?
We were pretty fatigued (from all the train shenanigans) and poor veggie Aaronoff was on the verge of scurvy. We’ve been eating these giant breakfasts and it seems like every 10 minutes someone suggests we “nip down the chippy” for enormous, greasy fish and chips. We asked the barman if he had any vegetables and he quickly brought us a plate of deep-fried mushrooms and….wait for it…chips!
The first amazing thing is that Colin Moulding of XTC has sent us a note at the bar. We did an interview with the local Swindon paper wherein I gushed quite enthusiastically about our love of XTC and mentioned that the first song we ever played together was "Vanishing Girl". When we got to Swindon to play at the Broadwalk, the barman said "there's a letter for you" and handed us an envelope. I practically swooned when I opened it. It just said 'thanks for the kind words in the local paper, sorry I can’t make it, but good luck with the tour'. A scuffle ensued over who got to keep the letter but I invoked bass player’s privilege.
Then, this very pretty blonde girl, walks up to me and says, "Are you the Pills? You're my favorite band, I play your CD all the time and I cannot believe you've come to Swindon. I never thought I'd get to see you live." I was thinking how lucky we were to have at least one fan for the show when she continued: "And you like XTC? That's my dad's band." Holly Partridge, for it was she. Turns out she stole our CD that I gave to Andy at a record signing in Boston a few years ago.I was stunned, I told her it was like meeting Alice In Wonderland or something (“Holly Up On Poppy” being one of my favorite songs). She wasn't jiving us, either, as she stood right up front and sang along to all our songs and took photos.
David got up to introduce us (great crowd for a Sunday night) and asked me if we could start with “Halifax”. Then he got down on one knee and proposed to Rachel. Uh, yeah, man, we’ll play anything you want! It was hard to follow that, but we did our usual assortment of sonic treats, plus a hastily cobbled together version of “Earn Enough” by XTC. We got an encore and Holly requested “Nicola” or “Butternut”. We hadn’t ever played either with Matt and Dave, but they both seemed to know ”Butternut” so we got through it.
We had a great time hanging out with Holly after the
show, she's super-duper nice, and she went out to the payphone to call
her Dad so we could say
hello. I'm afraid we got him out of bed, so I was expecting a quick hello
had us on the phone for almost 40 minutes. We talked about the Dukes,
recording, songwriting, etc. He offered us some encouragement for our
show in Liverpool
the following week, talked about when XTC used to play at Eric's in Liverpool.
Finally, he asked me to do him two favors:
Two days off for tourism and relaxation (and spending dough left and right). I totally lucked out and ended up with a room to myself (the other three were offered a triple and eagerly took it so as to avoid my snoring).
I just missed my Mom at her hotel and went over to Hyde Park to see if I could find her (see, it’s a rather large park). I was only there for a few minutes, but long enough to drop my passport in the grass. Luckily, a policeman found it and saw me. That could have been a total nightmare. It is vital that Mom is here because she has brought more merch for us (we’re out).
Aaronoff scored us great seats for “The Black Rider”, Tom Waits’ collaboration with William Boroughs, staged by Robert Wilson and starring Marianne Faithful as the Devil (typecasting). It was an absolutely astounding production: surreal, absurdist cabaret -- like a 3-hour version of the old Monty Python “Confuse-A Cat” sketch. Bob Seger did not get it at all.
The next day, MattB and I collected two broads from Pennsylvania (my Mom and Aunt Joan) for a double-decker bus tour. They went off to see Westminster Abbey and I struck off for Denmark Street to look at guitars. Usually it’s Thompson’s job to get sick on tour, but all the smoke of London is really bringing me down. I’m sneezing and weezing and coughing like a freak. I’m also having trouble getting any details about our Manchester gig and I’m tense and annoyed that I can’t get in touch with Jay from the club. There’s also a growing concern about how we’re going to get to Aberdeen. Our train passes don’t cover it and, being a bank holiday, all the train rates shoot through the roof.
No matter, Dave “Zagat” Thompson expertly guides us to a nice restaurant in Notting Hill for a Pills dinner. We ended up with the worst waitress in the world (she just completely disappeared for 40 minutes) so MattB got the complete history of the Pills -- the good, the bad and the stupid.
Thompson and I remember a few things differently (which makes sense, they are all things we didn’t agree on in 1999 either), but it was a good band moment. Dave is moving to Seattle after this tour, and we’re going on indefinite hiatus, but we all agree that this tour has been fabulous and that it’s something we’d like to do again. We’re all proud of the things we’ve done as a band over the years and hopeful that we’ll play together in the future. It must have been the wine, but it was a nice night.
We all got relatively together early and hopped on a Northbound train from Paddington heading towards Liverpool. Ideally, the entire journey would have been in B&W and one of us would have met Patti Boyd along the way. Still, it was pretty great to be heading to Liverpool with my very own rock and roll band. Devout Muslims return to Mecca, devout rockers return to Macca, you dig?
incredibly built-up compared to my last visit 10 years ago. I found myself
a bit confused leaving Lime Street station and we
hopping I a couple of taxis to get to our non- descript corporate hotel.
RULE #3,265: If you book a show at the Cavern in Liverpool, your Mom
will fly in to see it. It’s not very Motorhead, but both My Mom
and Dave Thompson’s
are in Liverpool to see us play. I’m quite pleased that my Mom
rounded up her oldest friend, Joanie (who’s known me since I thought
fart was a cloud) and actually crossed the ocean. It’s the sort
of thing she’d want to do, but normally not actually do.
Anyway, zoom back to Liddypool where we meet a bunch of drunken maniacs hanging out at Lime St. getting wrinkled. They somehow figure out that we’re the Pills and make a huge scene, yelling “piiiiiiills” and taking photos with us and stuff. It’s just a bunch of kids messing around, but my Mom is convinced that we’re big stars and I just let her think it. Lord knows she hasn’t had too much to be proud of with this “career” of mine.
I just adore Liverpool, what can I say? The people are
cool, the musical history is fabulous, the river is brown (turns out
in the Mersey).
We got up and set out to take the Magical Mystery Tour. We got a bit
of a late start and it got even later when I walked us right past the
Docks where it starts (and I had been there before so everyone just
followed me). We eventually would our way back there and had a bit of
kill so we took a look at the Beatles’ museum there. It was pretty
great: emotional, like. It finishes up in a room with Lennon’s
white piano and a tape of “Imagine” --
and then they dump you out into the souvenir shop.
is where it gets a bit hairy. We were initially supposed to do a Glasgow
show and this festival in Morcambe so it would have
all the way up to Aberdeen where we have friends and few fans of the
band. Both of those got cancelled, though, so we were left with a gig
way at the
toppermost of Scotland- a very expensive 7 hour train ride not covered
by our train passes. We explored all sorts of cheaper ideas- renting
from Liverpool, etc. and nothing looked feasible, so it was off to
Lime Street for a 9:30 train. It looked set to cost us 200 pounds to
and we were almost out of merch, but it just didn’t seem right
not to go. We’d
gotten some truly encouraging e-mails from people in Aberdeen in the
past and we really wanted to go see our pal Mark from Lithium Records.
We decided to just
hope for the best at the Britain/Scotland border. Our plan was to look
the ticket man straight in the eye, silently think “These aren’t
the droids you’re looking for” and hold our British train
passes out with complete confidence. It worked. We got to Glasgow without
and then a music
student we met on the train led us about a mile to the other train
station where we walked right past the guys checking tickets and got
on a train
It was a long ride up along the coast, but the scenery was gorgeous.
They are certainly not hurting for sheep in the North of Scotland.
We then stopped in at Mark’s studio to listen to what he’s been working on -- the new Josephine CD. It sounded pretty great (I love that band) and the studio is a cool cave. Mark shoved us into a taxi and sent us off to his house which is about 15 minutes outside of Aberdeen proper. The taxi driver warned us that we were playing in a sketchy neighborhood and told us that we’d see a lot of ladies of the evening. I told him that we were hoping to all chip in for one later. He deposited us at a lovely little stone farmhouse in the woods and we met Mark’s wonderful wife, Kirstie. She was an absolute angel, welcoming four stinky rockers in and cooking us chicken (NOT FRIED!!! We were so happy). We hung out there for a while, checking our e-mail, etc.
The gig was great. There was a local band on and then Josephine who I just love. They have a cool Modern Lovers/X sound with clangy guitars and a great front man. The bass player, Roz, is cool as fuck, she couldn’t look any cooler on stage. We played last and our set was very well received. It was a great way to end the tour, with everyone going mad for our set, and we played really well. We were supposed to be recording a live album, but the guy who did sound was mixing from his laptop (something I’ve never seen before) and none of us could even fathom how to take a line out to a recorder so that idea was scrapped.
Even better than the gig was the hang afterwards.
We all got way shitty and they had the coolest jukebox. I sampled some
of the fine amber
to the region” Glenfidditch, Glen Morrow, Glen Campbell, etc.
They all tasted like licking a carpet to me (I’d like to be a
Scotch drinker, and I keep trying, but I do not get it). Interesting
fact: they don’t call
it “Scotch” in Scotland, do they? I found “Massachusetts” by
the Bee Gees on the jukebox and drank several tequila shots with this
Portuguese guy. Then, I tried to convert the Scottish to bourbon, but
I slept in one of their kid’s rooms, but at some point in the morning moved out to a hammock in the back yard. It was in this beautiful little grove of trees and I nodded off. When I woke up there was a family of bunnies munching on grass nearby. Kirstie and daughter Evi drove Thompson and myself to the airport (along the way, Evi told me my new all- time favorite joke: what’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? You’ll never get kids to eat broccoli. It was really cute in a Scottish accent.) Thompson and I hopped a commuter flight to London and then he went off to meet up with his wife (they were traveling on to Italy). As he turned the corner at Heathrow, I finally took that damn Bob Seger pin off.
Back in London, and charmingly in synch with the Chelsea flower show, there were simply no hotels available. I had not foreseen this and ended up in what must officially be the worst hotel room in London. It’s at “Tony’s Hotel” in Paddington. It’s a basement room, 10x10, with a mattress and a sink and it’s right over a train track so every time a train leaves Paddington, the whole room shakes. The shower is on the 5th floor and the closest toilet is on the 3rd. Still, 30 pounds.
I came back from Aberdeen early to attend an event called Modstock and, more specifically, to see the Creation play. It was like being in Quadrophenia for a few hours: a thousand immaculately dressed mods in a ballroom in North London. First there was a fashion show, which was very interesting. The Creation was great and I noticed friend-of-a friend, and Buzzcock Tony Barber on bass. I also saw the Pills’ #1 best friend in Spain, Eneida. It was fabulous and wonderful, but a 20 pound taxi ride back to my crappy room soon took the edge off my enthusiasm.
The next day I was off to Cardiff, Wales to see my wonderful friends, Martin and Mary. Martin is a great songwriter and used to be in the band the Boo Radleys. It was the perfect place to go to chill out after the tour. All we did was drink beer and watch TV and play with their cat (known at various times as Shittyfoot, Piddle and Jihad). Martin and I watched the Rutles and did a little recording and he and Mary were excellent hosts. I mellowed out there for two days.
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