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.