Monday, July 13, 2009

Roadie Report 48 - UK and Italy - by Camilla McGuinn

The rain was pouring when the train pulled out of the Milan train station. Our visit to Italy will always be remembered when I look out a window at raindrops falling on the landscape.

Sound check in Asti was sweltering. Roger was sitting in the hot sun, in an open air square as I quickly rushed the sound check. Back home, in the States, we had decided not to do outside concerts anymore because it always rains. We bent those rules for Italy. A decision we were beginning to regret.

The concert in Udine ended in a rain shower. Roger changed his song order to make sure everyone heard the songs they'd come to hear before they were drenched. He is very aware that people want to hear the songs that are part of the sound track of their lives. The rain didn’t matter. The folks stayed in their seats and begged for a second encore, which he happily sang.

After the sound check in Asti, we returned to our hotel. When Nico, the promoter’s representative, picked us up for the concert, there was a slight drizzle. By the time we got to the venue, the drizzled turned into a full blown gale with lightening flashing in the sky. We knew there was no way Roger could safely play on a metal constructed stage, but there were people who were waiting in the storm to hear “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

I suggested they move the people who had stayed in spite of the storm, inside to a large room I had seen earlier. Once they were all inside, we placed a chair at one end of the room. Roger sat down with his acoustic 7-string guitar. He sang for an hour without any amplification. The audience sang with him. They were friends in his living room. The rain orchestrated a moment that will be forever remembered.

The first few days in Italy were sunny and beautiful. Nico picked us up at the train station in Faenza and suggested he take us to the hotel for a shower. After the overnight, epic trip from Paris, the shower was a welcome luxury. Nick reminded me that we could have flown to Italy in less than 2 hours. This dream didn’t have runways. We worked our way across the Atlantic on a luxury Ocean Liner and we were going to work our way through Europe on rails.

The regional train from Bologna to Faenza was hot and dusty. The antiquated train stations seemed to have a hundred steps to climb with the guitars, equipment and a small bag of clothes. In the course of pursuing a dream it is important to realize that there will be some moments you wished you didn’t have to experience. Roger sought after a dream when he was 14 years old. He had a dream to become a folk singer like Bob Gibson and Pete Seeger. Years of practice, years of peaks and years of valleys were on the road to the dream. His banjo playing landed him a job when he was 17. By the age of 22 he was a rock and roll star, but that wasn’t his dream. “Rock and Roll” was just a turn in the road. He didn’t mind that turn in the road and in fact enjoyed all the moments, but the turn had some very deep valleys.

The overnight train ride was smooth and we slept well. After a quick shower, we were ready to accept Nico’s invitation to go to his hometown of Rimini to eat at his father’s restaurant.

Rimini is a graceful town situated on the Adriatic Sea. As in all of Italy’s cities, history abounds. We were treated to a delicious meal of seafood and pasta before a walk on the beautiful beach. This seaside town is the vacation spot for the Italians.
The beach was filled with families camped under a sea of umbrellas. The cool breezes flowing off the sea made this beach experience delightful. We have lived on the beach but this was different. It wasn’t hot.

After the final Italian concert, Nico drove us from Asti to Milan and dropped us at a hotel that was not too far from the train station. I chose it because I wanted a location that was close to the station, but far enough away that a taxi driver would not be upset at the short ride. Carrying two guitars, an equipment bag and 2 rolling suitcases is not an easy feat after the first flight of stairs. I’m up to 40 push-ups a day, just to handle the lifting.

We checked into the hotel, and then explored the neighborhoods and their grocery stores - my favorite way to become familiar with a culture.

The telephone rang at 5am to wake us up in time to catch the early train to Germany. We have to change trains in Munich to get to Nuremberg. I never understand why we change the spellings of cities to fit our language. Munich is Muenchen in German.

Two elderly ladies are sitting across the table from me in the 4-seat configuration. Roger and I had the two facing window seats, but when I saw their disappointment that they weren’t sitting together, I managed to convey to them by sign language that we could switch seats. Roger moved across the aisle and the two ladies happily sat together, with me facing them. The seat change was very fortuitous. Once the ladies were settled in their seats, the younger one, I guess she is about 75, opened her bag, pulled out antiseptic wipes and began cleaning the table between us, our arm rests and the window sill. After she finished cleaning our abode, she went over to Roger’s seat and cleaned his area.

Roger and I pulled out our computers. I began writing this story and the ladies made sure I looked up whenever something beautiful was passing by – which was most of the time. Usually when I travel, I tend to compare the terrain with areas of my homeland but Italy isn’t like the rest of the world … it is unique. The mountains, the beaches, the cities, the vineyards, olive groves, the architecture and the small towns have a look and feel that I have only found in this boot shaped country. Of course when you add the delicious food into the mixture I have to say, “I don’t think we come here enough.”

We have been saying the same thing about the United Kingdom. The tour on the English rails was packed. Nick Peel, Roger’s agent and Chas Cole of CMP, the UK promoter, were very diligent to fill most of the days with concerts. It was on the trains that we were able to relax and reflect.

We chose to base out of a few towns and have David, the tour representative, drive us to some of the venues in nearby cities. That gave us a chance to explore Liverpool, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Reading, and Bristol.

Summer peaked out from the winter doldrums and the streets of Liverpool were brimming with people soaking in the sun. We needed a good restaurant for Roger’s day of show meal. The concierge at the hotel sent us to Piccolino’s. It is an understatement to say it is the best Italian restaurant in town.

Walking the streets of Liverpool is walking not only through bricks ladened with centuries of history but also with the more recent history of the 1960s. It was the home of the Cavern, the Beatles stomping place before their mania hit the world.

The original Cavern had been demolished, but a new one was built with the same bricks. There is a “Wall of Fame” with the name of performers who graced the stage. Looking at Mick Ronson’s name was like playing homage to a friend. He was one of those talented people whom we will always miss. He was Roger’s friend from the “Rolling Thunder Review” and later a record producer for Roger. I met him only once, but his kind, direct look and sweet words left an indelible mark on my memory. Thank goodness, “Cardiff Rose” is Roger’s living memorial to Mick’s work.

In Edinburgh, Roger was occupied with telephone interviews while I explored the streets. Right across from our hotel was a small pub with a sign in the window, “Folk Music.” I stepped in and asked when and where. The bartender pointed to the corner and said at 9 o’clock. That evening, we stood at the bar sipping a traditional pint and listened to six musicians play violins, guitars and flute. My feet wanted to join the music with the clogging I learned in my youth, but I reluctantly restrained myself.

An American couple approached the bar and ordered two pints. The lady was closest to the bar, so she paid. Her companion told her to leave the change. He made a point of saying that only in the U.K do bartenders like change. I smiled at him and said, “That’s because you just left him a $5.00 tip.”

For years I had thought of Reading just as a train station where we changed trains. On our last visit, we stayed at the beautiful Forbury Hotel, but this time the Ascot Races were on, so the Forbury was booked. I could tell it was Ascot season because ladies were wearing hats all around the town and some of them were quite silly. Fortunately, the Malmaison Hotel had availability and its location is wonderful for walking. We got Roger’s boots fixed, bought some guitar bags and ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant. On our night off, Roger read to me the H.G. Wells story, “War of Worlds” from his iPhone. Roger remarked that the newest version of the movie follows the book more closely than the older one but he wished someone would produce the story reflecting the original 1898 time frame.

June is graduation time in Cambridge. Black robes being followed by proud parents. The pubs were filled with conversations in every language. We thought Cambridge would be the perfect place to get the feel of the English pubs. We went to three. Two were steeped in history. The Miter and The Eagle. A twitter to Roger suggested The Eagle, the college hangout of the twitter pal and a famous watering hole of airline pilots during the war. It was there where we ordered the fish and chips that I had been longing for. Some foods are a must when you visit a country. A plate of fish and chips is an English necessity.

The third pub we visited was on the way home to the hotel after a long walk. The long walk was the result of me getting us lost. We entered the pub with a strong sense of relief, ordered a pint and sat down. On a shelf behind our table was a guitar. Roger asked if he could play it because he hadn’t had his daily practice. The bartender was thrilled. He wanted to learn how to play the guitar. He already knew 2 chords. Roger showed him another one and then sang Bells of Rhymney for a retired gentleman sitting at the bar.

Before the show in Bristol, Roger was invited to play at Glastonbury, the “Woodstock” of England. This wasn’t a CMP date, so Nick offered to be the tour driver. Arriving at the site, with the help of Roger’s GPS, was an awesome experience. It was a city built with canvas. An ocean of tents covered the farmland. I decided to watch Roger’s performance from the side of the stage. The smiles on the audience’s faces emanated throughout Roger’s whole show. They sang all the songs with total abandonment. My smile lasted until the next day.

The train is now stopped in the Verona train station. Just writing the name makes me very thankful for this life of adventure.
Shh…the ladies are sleeping even though the children are chattering.

Edwina Hayes was the wonderful singer who opened Roger's UK shows.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Roadie Report 47 - A Dream Comes True by Camilla McGuinn

Photo shot from our balcony on the Crystal Serenity

When God drops a dream in your heart and it comes to fruition, mere words sometimes can’t describe the experience. But it is this attempt at writing these words that will enable us to someday look back and smile at the sweet memories.

Our walk was rapid to catch the train to Edinburgh. The lounge had free Wi-Fi and I found myself totally involved in business emails without keeping an eye on the clock. There weren’t many people in the First Class Coach because the cost of the train ticket is expensive unless you have a BritRail Pass. The pass is used to promote tourism in the United Kingdom, so the price is very reasonable when bought in the United States before landing in England. It is wise to pay the extra for First Class because the Coach compartments are usually filled with commuters going to work who probably would appreciate not being inconvenienced by tourist and their luggage. Check the BritRail website for the prices.

I listened to Roger’s voice while he did a telephone interview before we left the hotel in Birmingham. He told the interviewer that we have been touring the UK for years with a BritRail pass. Those years of experience have fine tuned our choices of trains and hotels. This tour was quickly becoming one of our favorites. The dream didn’t begin on this train; it began last year when we entertained a dream of touring across the ocean without using wings.

The rental car from Orlando to Miami was comfortable, but not as comfortable as our van. Our understanding was enlightened as to why people are often amazed when we tell them enjoy driving. Riding in a regular car for hours is a confined way to travel.

The streets of South Beach were filled with people attending a “Rap” convention. The traffic inched its way to our hotel. One night there, then Crystal Cruise Line sent a car to drive us to the Crystal Serenity.

Embarkation for us was around 3pm. A previous experience on a different cruise line made us dread the “move the cattle attitude.” Boarding the Crystal Serenity was like boarding a private yacht. There were no lines and the staff made us feel like royalty.
The butler for our stateroom, Engin from Turkey, finished the royal treatment for the next ten days.

The Serenity inched away from the dock in the late evening. On the top deck, a few couples gathered to watch the Miami lights fade in the moonlight. The voice of Louis Armstrong filled the air singing, “Its A Wonderful World,” a Crystal Cruise line custom when one of their ocean liners departs a shore. Roger smiled, put his arm around me, took my hand and we slow danced our way into our dream adventure.

The crossing from Miami to Lisbon was going to take ten days. I wondered how we were going to spend the time. It didn’t take long to realize that the activities arranged by the Crystal staff could fill every moment of every day.

Since Portugal was our destination, I signed up for a Portuguese class. It was in that class that I met people who were to become our first friends on board.

Roger spent the first couple of days on the balcony of our cabin fishing the satellites for the Leo Leporte show, “The Tech Guy,” on XM Radio CH 158. He was thrilled that he managed to receive the show a little beyond Bermuda. After we were out of the connection line with the magic stars, Roger recorded two songs for the Folk Den on the Pro Tools equipment that he insisted on bringing. The cabin was as quiet as a recording studio.

Bermuda was the only stop before Lisbon. On my 40th birthday we had used our frequent flyer points to explore the island, so we decided to stay on board while everyone else went ashore. While sitting aft of the deserted ship, with a bottle of champagne, a lone couple walked by. We laughingly asked if they were enjoying our private yacht. Linda and Manuel quickly engaged us in a vivacious conversation. They had been to Lisbon before and when we told them that Roger is a musician, they insisted we join then for an excursion to a Fado club in Lisbon to hear the beauty of Portuguese folk music.

The theme of the cruise was “The Big Band.” One of our favorite movies is “The Glenn Miller Story” starring Jimmy Stewart. The band hired for this cruise was “The Glenn Miller Orchestra.” It was exciting to hear a big band play the songs of the sound track to our much loved movie. Every evening we would go to the Sunset Lounge, watch the sunset and listen to the music.

A few years ago, Roger and I made a deal with each other. I didn’t have to ride a bicycle anymore and he didn’t have to dance. He had already graciously forgotten the deal on our first night at sea. When the distinct sounds of Glenn Miller flowed from our new friends who played in the orchestra, we dressed in our finest attire and waltzed across the Atlantic Ocean.

It was easy for Roger to give two lectures because he has been lecturing in Colleges and High Schools. It was an intimate crossing, as re-positioning cruises often are, so the audience was filled with appreciative new found friends.

The San Francisco of Portugal.

Disembarking from the Crystal Serenity was as easy as embarking. Engin walked us to the waiting car. It was a sad farewell, but Rick, the cruise director, insisted we would be back. I’m pouring over the Crystal website and dreaming of the next time.

Our hotel room wasn’t ready when we arrived because it was before noon. The free Wi-Fi in the lobby became our first contact point with our email in 10 days. Roger looked up after a few minutes and began laughing, “I feel like I have jet-lag. It is a sense-memory of always arriving on foreign soil after a long airplane ride and wanting to go to bed.”

Photo by Camilla

The room was soon ready, but we didn’t go to bed. The blooming Jacaranda lined streets of Lisbon opened up to us our first adventure in Portugal as we walked the cobbled sidewalks. In the evening, Linda and Manuel arrived at our hotel to take us to the Fado Club. After a glass of champagne, we hailed a taxi for the old part of town.

Manuel made reservations at a club that presented the renowned guitar player,Mario Pacheco. Our table was right in front of the performers. The first of the many food courses was finished when the lights went red and all the noise and eating stopped. Out walked 4 performers, 3 male instrumentalists and one female singer. Mario played a 12-string guitar, but it wasn’t like Roger’s. It was a Portuguese 12-string with six sets of two strings resembling a large mandolin. There was no amplification of the instruments, nor of the singer’s voices. The room filled with the soulful sounds of a nation’s heritage. The words were foreign to us but we were moved by the intense emotion.

Our stay in the beautiful city of Lisbon was too short, but Roger had a concert to perform in Madrid. The evening after the amazing Club Fado experience, we boarded an overnight train to the capital of Spain. A late night dinner was served on board then we settled in our compartment for a night of dreaming on the rails.

We had worked with the promoter in Spain in 2004 for the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria-Gasteiz, so we knew we were in kind, capable hands.

The Hotel Ac Aitana became our home for two nights. It is located in the business district, away from the tourist area. The tapas bar across the street is the munching place for all the locals and it became ours too. We did experience the historical part of town, because the venue was situated right in the middle of it. The warmth of the Spanish audience stayed with us on our beautiful train ride north to Paris. The Spanish countryside looks like Southern California. No wonder the Spanish settled there.

Photo of the rain on the Spanish Plains taken from the train.

It was Sunday morning when our train pulled into the Austerlitz Station in Paris. We joined the taxi line and it soon became apparent that taxis did not make a habit of stopping at this station on Sundays. Thirty minutes later, I decided to walk around the block to see if there was a better vantage point. As soon as I turned the corner, I saw a taxi. My dilemma was how to convey to the driver with my limited French vocabulary that I needed him to take me back to the station, pick up my husband and luggage and then take us to Garde Norde, our next train station for the trip to London.

I peered into the passenger’s side window and with the most pathetic hopeful smile I could muster, pointed back to the train station and said, “Baggage” in my best French. It worked! He smiled and nodded. I jumped in the back of the taxi. The driver made a wild u-turn as I used my walkie-talkie to convey to Roger that I would soon be arriving triumphantly with transportation to our next destination.

The Eurostar is one of our favorite trains. Someday I will write a whole chapter about the adventures we have had on this underground pathway between London and Paris. Sitting in the lounge waiting to board was like being at home.

It is now a day off and we’re sitting on a train bound to London from Newcastle. Cambridge is our goal, but we enjoy the train so much, that we decided to take it to London and change at the King’s Cross Station instead of Peterborough. The romance of the train lends itself to writing. Castles on the hillsides, shorn sheep in the meadows and backyard gardens with babies in the swings add up to combine hundreds of years of history with the ever present daily life of this island nation.

Early this morning, Roger and I read the beautiful love letter in the Song of Solomon. There is a phrase in it of the man describing the beauty of the woman he loves. He compares her teeth to “shorn sheep.” I never really understood the comparison until today when I looked out the window of the train and saw a row of shorn sheep. Yes they did look like a row of teeth, with none missing.
Love, history and adventure…all from the window of a train. The Monet view from the English train.

More to come…..