The blues is alive and well in the United Kingdom…just as hot as the shocking 100 degree weather that greeted our return a few days ago! The career-building tour that placed us in front of enthusiastic audiences in fourteen towns and cities throughout England and Wales is a brilliant memory that bassist Terry Robbins, drummer Coy Fuller and myself can't stop talking about. Encores every night and standing ovations can really spoil a little ol' Texas bluesrock band. The life-long friends and significant music biz contacts that were forged are invaluable, and the sights we saw were extremely cool and often breathtaking. Some of the country's most popular blues musicians were in the audiences and we had the great fortune to also have some of the best on stage with us.
I guess the best thing to do is jump right in and give a blow-by-blow of the entire July 2001 tour. Our arrival at the airport in Manchester, England, presented us with the coolest Ringo Starr-type accents and equally refreshing temperatures. And, of course, the first thing I did was attempt to enter the touring van on the driver's side. Once the laughter subsided, I moved around to the passenger seat, took my place, and began to enjoy the ride through the rolling English countryside on our way to our home-base of Wrexham, Wales.
Our tour manager, Carol Farmer, negotiated the endless series of "round-a-bouts" (circular roadways that take the place of our intersections), filled us in on our itinerary, and answered the endless stream of questions we all had about everything we saw along the roadway. It took less than an hour to cross the invisible border to Wales and arrive at the narrow, two-story red brick structure that typified the dwellings throughout the northern UK.
The first night's performance at Barbara and Ray O'Hare's Warrington R&B Club was just a thirty minute drive, and while the lighting, sound system and backline gear went up, Ray apologized profusely for the "heat wave" and lack of air conditioning. Of course, for us it was just like a sultry November afternoon in central Texas.
As showtime approached, the hall began to fill up and within the first few notes of our opening number it was obvious this was going to be a very successful tour. With their ears and eyes glued to the stage, wild applause after every song, and more and more dancers moving around the dance floor in front of us, we shook off the remainder of our jetlag and gave it our best. We had been told the PA tech, Paul Westwell from Stockport, Manchester, was a fine harp player, but after we invited him onstage for several Chicago-style blues numbers, he became the fourth touring member of the band when his busy schedule allowed.
Just as we did for each date of the tour, all of us were busy signing autographs and talking to the admiring fans after the first show. Europeans, the English and the Welsh (and I'm told the Scotts and Irish, as well) really know their blues and have made it an integral part of their culture. And since my first two CDs had gotten considerable airplay, they knew what to expect and even sang along occasionally.
Launching the second show with my frantic guitar number 'Thunder And Lightning' was a big hit, and as we weaved through our well-rehearsed set of originals, and Texas or Chicago blues standards, the audience cheered more loudly after each number. Even though the heat outside the hall was mild by Texas standards, the hot stage lights had me soaking wet as we wrapped up the evening with our signature encore number…Freddie King's 'Goin Down' in which both Terry and Coy take extended solos. The crowd loved it and this heart-warming experience was repeated nearly every night of the tour.
Our next performance was at the Wrexham Rugby Club and celebrated Carol's fiftieth birthday. These milestone events are thrown all over Europe. Tickets are sold and the top bands are invited to perform. Once again we were fortunate to have Paul Westwell there, and Tim Aves who sings and blows harp with the Rockin' Armadillos from Essex, England made a guest appearance. I'd written a birthday blues song for Carol on our flight over and surprised her with it that night. Paul, Tim and I each sang a verse and I really wish it had been recorded. They're both great vocalists and it was the hit of the night.
The next day we took a well-deserved day off, checked out the sights around our home base in Northern Wales, and soaked in the local culture. On the 9th we drove south to Oxford for a concert performance at Jongleurs. Famous for their Monday night touring acts, this mini concert hall presented us at our best. Not knowing what to expect, we were relieved the savvy listeners accepted our show wholeheartedly. Several of England's most well respected musicians approached us and expressed their appreciation. We were honored and delighted that, as happened in every city, the promoter or venue owner asked that we return ASAP.
After a few days of sightseeing around amazing, historic Oxford and taking the super-slick double decker bus into London where we took the "tube" (subway) from one end of the city to the other, we headed east to Grimsby on the North Sea. Our two-show concert at The Spider's Web was greeted, once again, by raucous cheers and two encores after which we autographed Tour T-shirts, CDs and even promo photos. The one thing that impressed me was the range in age of our new-found fans. Nearly everywhere we were greeted by faces ranging from age 60+ to young people just old enough to be admitted. This was very refreshing and I've always enjoying bringing our music to all ages, especially young people.
The second largest blues festival in the UK happens at Colne, and we were fortunate to be invited to play on an outdoor stage at the Primet Centre overlooking the gorgeous rolling hills ringing this historic English City. The industrial revolution began here, and the sizable downtown area looks very European with its elegantly crafted stone masonry and architecture. I don't think anything in the country is made of wood. Thousands of years of finely chiseled stonework greet the visitor throughout England and the historical weight of this amazing area engulfs you at every turn.
- a one thousand year old tradition -
I know I'm getting redundant, but once again the audience was moving about and cheering our every solo, or deeply engrossed in a slow ballad. Eddie Boyd's '5 Long Years' [from Red's TEXAS THUNDER BLUES] was especially well received everywhere we went. And, interestingly we found that our more Chicago style numbers were more popular in the northern UK, while the Texas blues went over better in the south. Although, Texas and everything Texan is very big nearly everywhere overseas.
One of the high notes for us was our show at The Cavern Club, Liverpool. (Just a few weeks earlier ) where Paul McCartney had played in December 1999, and I swear you could almost feel his presence. We were fortunate to have Paul Westwell on harp throughout the show and had a great time. After hearing us, the manager of the Beatle's Experience conglomerate which includes the Cavern became a fast friend and is working to bring us to the international music festival there next year. He also provided us with free passes for the Beatle's Magical Mystery Bus Tour and after a night of well-deserved rest, we enjoyed the rich musical and architectural history of greater Liverpool which numbers about one and a half million. And, for that day, the weather cooperated. It was one of the few warm sunny days we had while in that part of the country. Incidentally, we attended Carol's son's college graduation a few days later in the Liverpool Anglican cathedral where John Lennon's funeral was held…a breathtaking, monumental chiseled structure towering over the landscape.
In a small town just south of Johnstown, Wales the students and their parents crammed the middle school's auditorium to hear us do a pair of short sets. This was a gratis event to introduce the area's young people to Texas blues, and once again we were gratified at the great reception. Later that night we shot off to Manchester to meet with a record executive and then munched down corn chips and salsa (soooo Texan) and downed the delicious local brew while discussing our adventures and good fortune. Oh, the delicious beer!
Before heading back on the road, we decided to do a couple of last-minute shows at The Talbot in Wrexham I guess John's Lennon's and John Mayall's guitars on the wall and the hundreds of cool old blues photos convinced us. We weren't expecting much from this pub-like venue. But by the time we'd kicked into our rockin' 'South Austin Shuffle' and funky 'Dynamite' [both on their new CD, Tortured MIND], the college-age crowd, many of whom were from France and Spain were literally kneeling on the floor and bowing to us. I kid you not! Not having enough "quid" to buy CDs or T-Shirts, they asked for broken strings and guitar picks.
The Running Horse in Nottingham, The Vic in Swindon, The Tawe Delta Blues Club in Swansea, Wales (which looks a lot like the Big Sur area on the coast of California), Miller's Snooker Club in Kirkby in Ashfield were all equally cool; fantastic audience reception and repeated encores capping off wonderful performance experiences throughout the country.
Two concerts that stand out were Worcester Park in the London suburb of Surrey and the tour finale at The Darlington Art Centre of Darlington in far northeastern England where we were invited to the mayor's home after an especially high-energy performance. When I first walked into the cavernous Worcester Park club, I was greeted by huge posters of Kent's beaming face (Omar and The Howlers), Bobby Mack and our new Australian friend, Gwyn Ashton. We were right at home and with Alex Murkin of the Rockin' Armadillos on keyboards and Tim Aves sitting in on harp, proceeded to give it all we had on the concert-sized stage.
As there had been at several performances, the house was thick with music writers and reviews. And we're hoping that the digital video of this concert reaches us soon. I have to admit a bit of nervousness that night, but stood up to the challenge and "rocked the house" in true Texas style. We'd conquered London and were kept busy with our autograph pens.
At the last date of the tour in Darlington we had Paul Minshull on keys and he did a "smashing" job. All the great players who helped us out have made themselves available for our next tour, and we feel honored. The audience that night was mostly comprised of folks our own age who listened intently and then took to the dance floor for the second show. By the end of the evening they were hooting and hollering during Coy's marathon drum solo and refused to let us leave until we'd done two more encores.
I can only say that it was a great experience. I never felt so intelligent; everyone telling me I was "brilliant". And over and over having respected musicians and music biz folks tell us we were "fantastic" and that our shows were "smashing" was quite a treat. We'll definitely make a return trip ASAP. In the meantime, with our new CD being released in Europe, we're making plans to tour the continent and eventually, after it's getting airplay here, do concerts all over the USA. Texas blues is conquering the world!
The Running Horse
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