Monday, July 16, 2012
Roadie Report 60 - UK & NL - October & November 2011 - by Camilla McGuinn
When I was six years old, the days crawled and crawled from one birthday to another. Every day was an adventure. Just learning the intricacies of living consumed daily emotional ups-and-downs. Sense memories were imbedded into the recesses of my mind. At that precious time, one year was merely a sixth of my existence.
Now, one year is one sixtieth of my life. The years no longer crawl; they are rocketed from birthday to birthday. I am blessed that the years are still filled with adventures. Sense memories often spring forth with vivid recollections of moments past. A few memories are traumatic but most are all so sweet.
The sweet memories include the night Roger and I toasted the Eiffel Tower from the palatial suite Capitol Records parked us in; to the night we slept in our van in a Howard Johnson’s parking lot wedged between two eighteen wheelers.
The champagne night in Paris was exciting even though the next day we were feeling a little woozy while we sought out the Louver and its Mona Lisa. The memory of the cold night nestled between the trucks in our sleeping bags with ski toboggans on our heads, gloves on our hands and our noses freezing brings the same smile as the exciting Parisian night.
A group of friends insisted that I come up with an idea on how to celebrate my 60th birthday in October 2011. I didn’t think it was a priority because we were going to be on a concert tour in Europe and the United Kingdom. Asking our friends’ to fly to Ghent Belgium on October 22nd just to light a birthday cake seemed outrageous to me, so I came up with a plan – not as outrageous but still an adventure.
We would all take the train from Orlando to New York City, and then do something I had always wanted to do - walk across the Brooklyn Bridge after a scrumptious dinner prepared in the River Café in Brooklyn.
Amtrak is not the Orient Express, but Roger and I have figured out how to enjoy the trip. We get a compartment and order all of our meals in suite. There were five of us on the train. We were meeting Theresa in New York City. Pat had been on the train with us before, but Laraine and Phil were experiencing their first train sleep over.
The dining cars on Amtrak have tables which seat only four people. Roger was very happy staying in our compartment. Antoinette, our compartment steward, promised to make sure he ate a proper dinner. When I returned from dinner in the dining car, Roger was sheepishly eating ice cream that Antoinette insisted he have. Yep, she took good care of him.
Amtrak’s Silver Meteor #98 pulled into Penn station around noon. The luggage porter knew exactly where to find us a taxi to take us to the Hilton. Patrick, Roger’s son, was meeting us for dinner at The Grand Central Train Station Oyster Bar at 6pm. (Phil still can’t get over how much we like train stations!)
There was time to explore before the evening meal. Not far from our hotel is the “Church of Apple.” The name I give to all Apple computer stores because Apple devotees are religious about their products. Our group included four devotees. I giggled as I watched them and everyone else reverently walk through the store. I was a Blackberry person and devoted to the Windows PC world. I did try an Apple computer once. I smiled when Roger accidentally stepped on it, destroying the hard drive, after I had thoughtlessly laid it on the floor by the bed. That accident opened the door for me to go back to a wonderful Toshiba PC. As for the Blackberry - Roger had a plan. We were going to take an iPhone to the UK and Europe. We would buy a prepaid SIM card and not worry about all those nasty charges that pop up when you take a US cell phone across the pond. Roger was sure that constantly using the iPhone for email would convert me…darn...he was right!
The day after teasing my friends about their devotion to APPLE, I opened the door of our hotel room to pick up the newspaper. The headline declared the death of Steve Jobs. He was a visionary who will be missed, even by me.
The official birthday celebration dinner was scheduled for the next evening. Timing the sunset over the Manhattan skyline meant we had to have an early dinner at the River Café in Brooklyn. Our gang of six was the first to enter the restaurant door. The cocktail lounge overflowed with our small group while we waited for the dinner service to begin. There was another couple seated nearby. I felt we might have been a bit too loud, so I engaged them in conversation.
The concierge of their hotel suggested they have dinner here before they boarded the Queen Mary 2 bound to Southampton the next day. Roger and I were going on the same ship! As usual we were working our way across the Atlantic. Roger was scheduled to give two lectures on “How Folk Music Took Him to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.”
The maitre’d led us to our table and a bottle of Dom Perignon was waiting. Bill and Linda, friends from Ohio, had arranged the treat. We ordered the Chef’s menu, watched the sunset and then the fireworks began. Our waiter told us that our champagne friends had ordered the fireworks just for my birthday celebration! We knew he was teasing, but I thanked Bill anyway.
The walk across the Brooklyn Bridge surprised Roger the most. He used to live in Greenwich Village and never had any desire to walk in Brooklyn after dark! He wasn’t sure if was safe but the bridge was filled with folks walking, biking and enjoying the city lights and the crisp October air. I couldn’t decide if the experience mirrored the family atmosphere of Walt Disney World or the excitement felt while strolling the streets of Paris.
The next morning we all hugged goodbye before we loaded our luggage into various cars.
Roger and I were headed back to Brooklyn to board the majestic Queen Mary 2. There is no better way to ‘ferry across’ the Atlantic Ocean. The guitars would be safe and we would be relaxed for the first concert in London’s lovely Cadogan Hall.
My fantasy plan for the perfect “birthday tour” was to wake up Scotland on the day. The train traveling north on the English East Coast is one of our favorite train adventures. One problem, I forgot to send Roger’s agent, Nick Peel, that memo. He put together a wonderful Netherlands tour with one date in Belgium. Even though I didn’t see some of my favorite cities - Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen – the cities we did see now echo as beautiful in the recesses of my memories.
I always prefer touring the UK and Europe via train, but this schedule wasn’t working because the connections were too tight for someone who couldn’t translate the language written on the train signs very easily. Nick didn’t understand why I thought driving in a small country would be so difficult. My reluctance was established by previous driving difficulties. We had a tour years ago which involved driving to Denmark from Brussels. The wonderful folks of Denmark all speak English because as they told us, “We are a small country. We can’t expect people to learn our language, so we learn theirs.” The one thing that they didn’t do was write the signs for gas stations and parking meters in English. There were a few alarming situations. We weren’t sure how to pay the tolls, park the car or even how to get gas in a self serve station. We survived those moments of feeling totally stupid but I decided that when possible, all future tours would be traveled by train and taxis in countries where we couldn’t read and translate the language.
The other problem we were concerned with was credit cards. European credit cards contain a computer chip and use a PIN, American credit cards don’t. We weren’t sure we would be able to purchase gas. Hotels don’t have a problem with American credit cards, but small vendors aren’t comfortable without a PIN.
Unfortunately, the train logistics just weren’t working, so I capitulated and rented a car to tour the Continent. We took the Eurostar to Brussels and spent a wonderful evening in the Conrad Hilton, thanks to Hilton frequent guest hotel points. Staying at all those freeway Hampton Inns really paid off by supplying a wonderful room in downtown Brussels.
On two previous tours we’d rented cars in Europe and even with a GPS, we always got lost in Brussels. One time I asked a policeman, “ Ou est la gare?” He replied with a yell and hand signals pointing us to the corner, “ A droite!” I was so excited! I spoke French and understood what I heard. Well almost. We did turn right…right into a shopping mall. The marble floors of the Mall gave us a hint that we shouldn’t proceed. Gare du Norde was the second right.
To make things less complicated this time, I decided to rent a car from an airport rental location on the city’s fringe. Taking a wild taxi ride to the airport from the hotel proved to be very dangerous and expensive. The driver talked on two cell phones simultaneously while going extremely fast. The charge was 90 Euros for less than 10 miles of travel! When we returned the car, the car rental agent encouraged us to take the train directly to the Eurostar station. It was a much better choice. Two Sunday First Class tickets cost 15 Euros. Safe and comfortable!
Our first drive of the 2011 European tour was 81 miles from Brussels to Heerlen, Holland where I found a castle to spend the night - Hotel Kasteel Terworm. Time is limited when doing ‘one night stands.’ We try to experience as much as possible in a very short time. After checking in and watching a hail storm from the turret of our room, we ate lunch. Later we were picked up by Remco, the MOJO tour manager who would be with us for all our Netherlands concerts.
Nick understands that Roger just wants to play theaters and the folks at MOJO had just the right venues. Not only did they supply a road manager, they also supplied a sound engineer, a lighting technician, a guitar technician and trucks that carried the equipment, including the plants I always insist upon. I don’t like to see Roger sitting in a ‘black hole’ on stage. The plants, enhanced by lovely lighting, soften the visual experience and create an intimate setting. He often feels like the audience is in his garden.
After the first concert, I began feeling like a princess and a little bored. All of my usual tasks were being done by four different people. Wait a minute – four men were filling my normal positions! I think I’ll give myself a raise!
We did have to leave our crew to drive to the Ghent, Belgium concert because it wasn’t a MOJO promoted show. Ghent is the beautiful city where we officially celebrated all 60 years of sprightliness.
Roger only performs two days in a row. His voice stays clear when not stressed with days and days of concerts. That rule also gives us a little extra time to enjoy our adventures. The next morning we drove 136 miles to Amsterdam and had time to have a relaxing lunch with our friend Renee.
I had one other concern about this tour. Roger’s concerts are a mixture of songs and stories. Would the audience be offended with the stories all told in English? We shortened the stories and I kept reminding him to speak a wee bit slower. He gets excited about a story and the words spill out in rapid succession. The audience didn’t seem to mind. The beauty of Europeans is they not only learn several languages, they use them. In the states, we study languages, but seldom have the opportunity to put them into practice, though Spanish is a language we can now put into daily use, especially in Florida.
I’m always surprised to see fans coming to every show on a tour. One couple from Germany decided to use Roger’s tour as their vacation. Hanni brought us marzipan and daily enthusiasm. I always enjoyed seeing the couple at the shows. In Rotterdam, I kept looking for them before the concert, during the intermission and after the concert, but they weren’t around. Later, she emailed and told me that on the way to the concert her husband had fallen and was injured. He is okay now. We hope to see them next time we’re in Europe.
The Netherland driving experience was delightful. All of the silly concerns quickly dissipated once we began navigating the well constructed highways. Even buying the only extra tank of gas we needed to complete the whole tour was an easy task. Our longest drive was the interesting 200 miles from the last concert in Leeuwarden back to Brussels to catch the Eurostar to London.
The next morning, with our BritRail passes in hand, we boarded the train to begin the final leg of the concert tour.We were delighted to find the best coach on all the UK trains is the "Quiet Coach." We were usually the only people on the entire compartment because no cell phones are allowed. We don't really want to talk on the cell phone, email is a much better way of communication for our business. Concerts were in Leeds, Gateshead, Worcester, Poole, Milton Keynes and finally Abedare in Wales.
CMP Entertainment has been Roger’s UK promoter since 1986. The managing director, Chas Cole, has two children - James and Camilla. We always smile at that coincidence.
Tilo was our CMP representative for the tour. After our last date in Abedare, he drove us to Southampton to board the Queen Mary 2. Tilo is into gadgets as much as Roger, so he trustingly put our destination into his GPS. As the terrain changed and the roads got smaller, Roger and I quietly kept looking at each other with knowing smiles. We have been on the same type of roads in the States - back roads you will only see if the GPS routes you the shortest way, not the fastest. Halfway through the trip, Tilo quietly mentioned that this was probably not the best way or the quickest. Then we could both laugh out loud. Driving through the English countryside was a delightful way to say goodbye to England - especially since we had allotted extra time.
Boarding the Queen Mary 2 was like coming home. The minute we walked into our stateroom on the grand ship our days changed from precision time lines to total relaxation. Roger did give two lectures and a Q & A, but the lectures are a treat for him.
He loves using the media of video and photos to tell his story. He even shows the first airplane ticket he used on his trip to Los Angeles to play his first professional gig with the Limelighters in 1960. His concerts are the sound tracks to his lectures. The ship is like a small town filled with happy neighbors. To cap the whole experience, there is a delightful crew that anticipates the needs of their guests.
On November 17, the Statue of Liberty appeared in the morning mist. The early morning disembarkation at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal gave us plenty of time to board Amtrak’s Silver Meteor #97 to Orlando. When we got to our compartment, there was Antoinette! She was going to care of us all the way home!