Saturday

[Entertainment tonight: we play as Plastic Beef at Freddy's in Brooklyn] And now for the show-by-show wrap up of the "Larch & the WonderWheels" August 2006 Hampshire, UK Pub Tour... Our first show on Wednesday, August 2nd at The Dove Inn in Micheldever was a great warm up venue: the perfect start to our tour. Location: about 12 miles north of Winchester right next to the railroad station in charming country-side. A music venue with a wall of posters of acts who've played there previously, this is also, sadly, a pub in decline. The larger room was out of use the night we played, and they've cut their staff from five to two and had to stop serving food (which resulted in a 20 mi. roundtrip dash for take-away Indian, ah country living). Our crowd cozily filled the available space, and we benefitted from the sound-regulator on the wall finding that if we played just under the too-noisy red mark all our rental amps were humming along and we could clearly hear the vocals so that was helpful benchmarking volume. Catch phrase of the evening: I'd noticed a couple who arrived while we were setting up and stayed for our entire performance. She was an attractive and stylish older woman of a certain age, and he seemed much younger. I couldn't tell if he was her boyfriend or her son, and I did wonder once or twice as we enjoyed their undivided attention. Halfway through the second set she came up and whispered something in Ian's ear that kept him smiling for a good 30 minutes. He wouldn't divulge until after they'd left, but the golden girl hottie had asked "Have you ever had really great sex? You should think of that when you're playing." Thursday, August 3 we played The Platform Tavern on the Town Quay in Southampton. Location: port city on the south coast of England, directly across from the Isle of Wight. A thriving music venue, they host mostly solo and duo semi- or completely acoustic acts. We'd actually met with this booker in person, so obviously he knew what we're about when he engaged us, but he was on vacation the night we played and some of the regular patrons became alarmed at the sight of us carting in the drum set cracking jokes about us cracking the ancient city wall (circa 1200's) behind us with excessive volume. This was the least suitable venue for us, and although we had a room of people, with the exception of some of Ian's friends in one corner, the average age appeared well over 50, the average couture was "rumpled yachting," and the average facial expression was bemused puzzlement a la "I think I like this... but should a person like me like this?" Friday, August 4 we played The Cricketers in Eastleigh. Location: roughly mid-way between Winchester and Southampton. A popular local in a down-to-earth neighborhood, this pub was much more our scene. The manager, in addition to being the coolest South African I've met so far, is really into original and live music and was very supportive. Our posters were prominently displayed and the crowd we drew (some from as far as the London suburbs - this being our Friday show) was augmented by a large and happy bunch of regulars who turned up to check out the entertainment from Brooklyn. This was Ian's birthday night, so perhaps that gave us an extra boost as we had one of those magic performances where everything went right, mistakes were impossible as we fully hit our stride as musicians, and the crowd was with us from the first refrain on the first song to the last note of the encore two and a half hours later. There was hooting, there was hollering, drinks were bought for us, we sold CD's, and were asked for our autographs (!), with a general atmosphere somewhere between rock concert and football match. I loved every minute of it. Several catch-phrases were generated as Ian fought off cheek-kisses from men and I karate kidded my way past a few drunk and grabby hands during the tipsy melee that is a good after show experience. Our two favorite came from a jovial wall of a man called John who staggeringly escorted us out to our car balancing a pile of all six records we had available proclaiming "I'm gonna have ta get a CD player!" He then tucked us into our car, blessing us through each window with his palm faced outward slurring "Artist! You're an artist! Artist!" You got it, baby! Eastleigh forever. Saturday, August 5 we played a private party in Owslebury at the house where we were staying approximately six miles into the country-side around Winchester. A keg of Ringwood brewery "Forty-Niner" real ale (a prime mover in the pantheon of fantastic drinks) was on hand for us in the band, and we played and played for this fantastic and supportive extended family and friends. They were even foolhardy enough to allow their impressionable kiddies to take in our music from the front row. We amused ourselves (and everyone else over 12) by stopping before a few covers to educate the front row in rock music history. "Now kids, we're going to play an old English folk song from the 60's called 'All Day and All of the Night' that was written by Ray Davies of The Kinks. Can you say Kinks?" I take comfort in knowing that the law of averages would dictate that at least some of those children's minds were already irrevocably warped before we got to them... Also notable about Saturday's show - I took a tumble in the fourth set - my first on stage fall complete with a few horrified gasps and everything! I blame mole holes in the lawn, and espadrilles with straw heels, and okay perhaps that lovely Forty-Niner. It was during our only rendition of "Cumberland Blues," and fortunately I had taken my guitar off to sing harmony and play tambourine. It was one of those slow-motion falls... I managed to throw myself off balance shaking that tambourine and with the uneven ground instead of recovering a backwards step sent me further over and whoa who put that guitar amp there? Nothing was broken and I steadfastly believe that I even managed to go over in a dress without flashing anybody. This additional entertainment was much appreciated but the above-mentioned quirky and supportive English family, and I'm considering adding a tumbling component to all shows, just to keep things interesting. Sunday, August 6 we played The County Arms in Winchester. Location: in town on the Romsey Road by the hospital and the university. We pulled up to this pub in the late afternoon, figuring rightly that we could get a big plate o' fish and chips and maybe some coffee as well before playing. As Tom eased our car into a parking space we heard a mighty ROAR of celebration. I joked, "Hey, the band is here!" But it turned out there was a big footie match on the telly which Tom stayed to watch as the rest of us took a walk about the neighborhood. The local crowd thinned after the match, and the owner came up and apologized to us, detailed the people he had talked us up to, and said he hoped we wouldn't be too disappointed if it wasn't a packed-out house. It was then I knew I was getting spoiled. Guaranteed payment, an apology for low-turn out, and then the booker pleased as punch when we told him we knew we'd get at least a dozen or so of our own crowd in... such a contrast to NYC where just this week I got a pathetic booking "confirmation" e-mail for a typical city club date (no guaranteed payment, no house crowd and a 50/50 split on the cover charge) that spelled both my first name and the band name wrong as we were "confirmed" for a different club, in a different borough, on a different night than when the show was originally set up. Needless to say I turned that particular offer down, and as I did I thought "Europe, you have raised my standards." In the end we played to about 25 people at the County Arms as some locals did heed the good word of mouth and turn up for a check out. As far as I could tell everybody stayed for the entirety of both sets. By that point we were a rockin' machine, and even though we were all a bit fatigued from the party the day before and from holding nothing back, feeling no need to pace ourselves for a relatively short five day tour, the music felt tight and it was natural to get back to the pace of playing our two "Larch & the WonderWheels" sets. As with most of these venues, it's pretty much time to start packing up right after the end of the second set. It hit me all at once as we took a last round of photos that our pub tour was over... I consider it an unmitigated success; it was a fantastic experience, I'm proud of how and what we played, and I wanna go again! Possibly the best catch phrase of the week, after the owner told the bar maid that it was last call but she could take drink orders from us musicians for an extra few minutes: "I'm sorry, I can only serve the band." We're nearing the end of our tale today, WheelsFans. On Monday we woke up sober and sent Andy and Tom back towards Brooklyn. I drove and we returned the rental gear and the rental car (still without a scratch on it; victory!) and we got a ride back to Owslebury and had an early, quiet dinner returning to the Brushmakers Arms with Ian's Mum. Our flight back on Tuesday from Heathrow was uneventful. My travel karma held and we got in right before this latest terror-whatever and were allowed to carry on our guitars, etc. no problem. And that is how I find myself here in Brooklyn. The cats are fine. The pizza is delicious. And tonight we'll return to the center of our BK-universe, where all the fine freaks are, Freddy's Bar.

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