An OFFICIAL Blog from the Olympic City

Hello from the Olympic City!

It was back to work for us with a run of four performances to and fro.

But wait!

There was one more event to tend to here in London: Watch the Olympic torch relay! The poor torch has been crisscrossing the UK like a pinball for 68 days, has passed through the hands of 8,000 “runners,” and we weren’t going to let it pass us by. Thursday morning, just around the corner from Sandra’s flat and right on time, a parade of buses preceded the torch. We could tell these were official Olympic buses because they were clearly marked by official sponsor logos and were blaring music approved by an official committee. We were lucky enough to see not just the torch, but witness its transfer from one runner to the next. It was much ado about something and a great way to start the morning. On our way back to the flat, a woman stopped me to ask if I’d gotten photos because she missed it. I had and showed them to her. The can of beer in her hand and her disposition demonstrated clearly why she had missed the torch. She was drunk. It was 8:45 a.m. Well done! A gold medal performance!

It's the OFFICIAL Samsung Olympic Torch Bus!

It's the OFFICIAL Olympic Torch Exchange! Note the security team dressed discretly in running clothes. The photo does not show their in-ear radios.
With our official Olympic duties done for the day, Ned and I headed southwest via train for a return trip to Portsmouth where our first performances took place in June. That seems like a decade ago. We had no travel delays and arrived at the RMA Pub with time to spare.

Now here’s the deal: Sometimes on tour there’s an offer made for free accommodations. It’s always a gamble, but being the road warriors we are, we were game to give them a try. We made the quick walk to the “house” for inspection. There are beds. Check. They have blankets and pillows. Check. The bedroom windows do not open. Check. Permanent residents are one dog and one cat. Check. There’s cat food strewn all over what appears to be the kitchen floor. Check. OK, where’s the bathroom. We can’t find it anywhere. Hmmmm…. During his search for the bathroom, Ned steps in a big pile of dog crap on what appears to be the living room floor. Check. We’re outta here! After a few phone calls, and with the help of Nick, the promoter, we were safely booked at a B&B for the night. Check.

The evening’s gig at the RMA Pub went fine and after our day of travel and accommodation travails we were happy to find a nice Indian restaurant just up the street from the B&B for a late dinner. Yum... madras with lamb.

Friday morning we were up and at it, leaving the B&B and on to the InnLodge for our second night’s accommodation, then off to the downtown area where Ned’s going to do some promotion for the evening’s gig and I’m going to walk to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard to see the HMS Warrior which I had missed in June.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that I inflicted harm to my right knee while jogging in London one week into the tour. It HAD been getting better. However, the 3.5 mile roundtrip walk to the port was not a good idea from my knee’s point of view; its been reminding me of this tactical error ever since. On top of that, they don’t sell tickets to see individual attractions at the dockyard. To see the Warrior, I would have had to buy a $30+ pass. Mission not accomplished!

Friday evening at the Old House at Home Pub was fun. We had Adam, a Brit we met the night before, sit in on bass. Adam runs a music program at an American-British school in Oman and was on vacation. He was a trooper and played quite well. The only downside to the evening was that we competed with the spectacle of the official 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony. Many stayed home to watch the event and, I admit, I had a hard time not watching it on the Pub’s big screen while playing.

It's the OFFICIAL Old House at Home Pub Crew - Nick (promoter), Ned, Adam (sitting in on bass) in back and our opening act, King Sized Robots. They were good!
Quick fact before leaving the island city of Portsmouth: You wouldn’t suspect it while being there, but Portsmouth is the second most densely populated area in the UK and thirteenth in Europe!

Saturday morning we made our way back to London’s Victoria Station, met Malcolm and Sandra, and caught the train for the short trip to Kent to play outdoors at the Summer Breeze Groover 2 Festival at the Lower Bell Pub. The weather was perfect! As they say in the UK… “Ah, the English summer! The best day of the year!” And so it was. Though our music was unlike the Top-40 review played by the band preceding us, our friend Roger Humphries gave us a warm introduction. Roger had clout with the audience being a resident of the area and having his own popular country band. We played well and were well received. I still get a kick out of how many people, often musicians, who are amazed at the sounds of the cajon. Well, three gigs down and one to go… and my hands are holding up fine.

It's the OFFICIAL Action Shot from the Summer Breeze Groover 2!
It's the OFFICIAL Olympic Welcoming Crew at London's Victoria Station

Sunday’s London gig at Ain’t Nothin' But Blues Bar is a big one. The venue, located in London’s West End, has a great reputation and wasn’t easy to book because WE are mostly something other than the Blues. Nonetheless, the three of us hit the stage playing for an international audience… people from the UK, Russia, Spain, Hungary, the States, you name it. In fact, a German fellow asked where in the States I was from. I said, “Idaho” and he said, “Oh yes.” Assuming he was thinking of Iowa, I mentioned it was in the West, near Seattle (Seattle’s always a safe conversation reference point for Idaho). He replied, “Yes, I know it. I studied six months at WSU in Pullman, Washington.” Thus, he not only knew where Idaho was, he had been to my home town of Moscow, Idaho, on many occasions. Small world! Back to the gig… we kept the crowd going throughout our two-hour performance. Ned pulled out all the stops to play up-tempo tunes some of which I had never played on cajon; now THAT was interesting! They didn’t let us go until we had given them a proper encore. Mission accomplished!

It's the OFFICIAL Photo at Ain't Nothin' But Blues - Sandra, Ned, Janet (Malcolm's mom) and Malcolm!

There you have it, four performances in four days and my hands are fine. While I fully anticipate the official Olympic drug testing committee will ask I submit to tests, I assure you there was no doping involved or chemicals otherwise applied to my hands. Let’s see the Chinese cajonists do that!

Cheers from a once again cool and rainy London!  But, before I leave…

Happy Birthday to Natalie back home as she celebrates her OFFICIAL “25th” birthday! I wish I could have been there, but her workmates Suki, Bridget and Sheri surprised her at our home this morning with coffee, flowers, a homemade card and a special birthday hat. My love to you, Natalie,... I'll be home soon.

Until next time... an OFFICIAL Ciao! ~ Todd


Tuesday’s a day of rest after the weekend run of gigs, but Wednesday we’re back at it. This time, Ned and I took the quick train ride to Milton Keynes. Yes, we managed to get on the correct train on the first try thank you very much! At the Milton Keynes station, we were met by Hannah Merrington from RGS Entertainment Group. The day’s task was to perform five of Ned’s tunes at the RGS studio in a live session environment with audio and video rolling. Dom Rampello, owner of RGS greeted us, showed us around, then into the studio we went. We moved through the songs quickly, accomplishing each in one take. There were no over-dubs, additional tracking or correction of minor mistakes. This was the real deal... and it went splendidly. You can view the first video HERE.

Ned warming up at RGS Entertainment Group's studio for the live recording session

Ned and I arrived back at London’s Euston Station late afternoon and caught a cab for the ride back to the flat. I don’t know our cabbie’s name. I’ll call him Geoff. So Geoff seemed a nice enough fellow, probably nearing retirement. We soon learned that Geoff had been waiting in the station’s cab queue for an hour. This did not please Geoff and he found no reason to hold his opinions back. With a liberal sprinkling of the "F" word, Geoff proceeded to tell us just how much the Olympics were interfering with his work. Not knowing if Ned and I truly comprehended the degree of his frustration with lane closures and restrictions throughout the city, Geoff accentuated his locution by dropping the unforgivable "C" word when it was time to place blame on the traffic travails. We learned that “that F…ing C Tony Blair” and “that F…ing C David Cameron” were at the top of his list. We were surprised to learn that “that F…ing C George Bush” AND “that F…ing C Obama” are also to blame… blah, blah, blah… something about the economy. With a few “bollocks” bouncing off Geoff’s tongue to help his discourse along, we arrived at the flat somewhat dazed. We agreed with Geoff on two points: (1) we generally don’t like politicians and (2) it’s a good thing Geoff and the missus are going on holiday during the games.

Thursday and Friday were simple enough… a Thursday walkabout with Malcolm from Islington to his place in Crouch End to pick up a piece of gear (a special shout out to Malcolm’s mum, Janet, for the coffee and cakes!), followed by Friday’s trip to Denmark Street with Ned to stop by the guitar shops promoting our upcoming London show.

Saturday morning and it was back to work. The rental car was packed and we headed southwest to Winchester to play the Winchester Science Festival. As the name indicates, this was not a music festival. Rather, it was a gathering of science types where all sorts of current science-related topics were presented and discussed. Ned had been invited to help with a presentation on the science of music. Before the presentation, I had time to have a walkabout to see the Winchester Cathedral, the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe, along with other historic sights typical of England. Did I mention there were tourists in Winchester?

The “String Theory” presentation with Milton and Bridget Mermikides went over very well and, after a break, Ned and I performed an hour long set as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Ned with Bridget and Milton Mermikides presenting the science of music at the Winchester Science Festival

Packed up, we headed for London. Our navigation device, or “SAT NAV” charted our course and we were trusting in its 21st Century technology. But here’s the problem: Our SAT NAV had not been reading the London news about Olympic road restrictions nor had it taken time to have a chat with Geoff. In addition, SAT NAV was not aware of what takes place in the SOHO/West End Districts on a Saturday at midnight. Into the fray we went. The first obstacle was bumper to bumper traffic jams due to road crews getting Olympic lanes painted and otherwise marked. That was the first sixty minutes. The final 30 minutes were spent observing thousands of Saturday night revelers pour out of the bars in the SOHO/West End Districts as we putted along at the pace of a very slow turtle. Let’s just say certain parts of downtown London on a Saturday night are something you have to see to believe. At 2:00 a.m. we’re back at the flat.

Five hours later we were up and getting ready for Sunday’s outing to play at the Upton Blues Festival in Upton upon Severn, near the Welsh border. After a quick stop to pick Malcolm up, we headed out of town and arrived by Upton by noon, the car crammed with the four of us and gear. Something odd happened on Sunday. The clouds cleared and summer arrived in Britain; it was perfect. The festival is billed as Britain’s largest free blues festival and is an event that takes over the entire village with bands playing at multiple venues indoors and outside. We had a few hours to take it all in before hitting our set on the outdoor stage at 4:45. I’ve learned something about “blues” festivals – the acts performing don’t necessarily play anything resembling blues… I’m pretty sure country rock is not blues. I’m also fairly certain songs like “White Wedding” are not blues. In any case, people were out enjoying the day.  Our hour-long set went really well in no small way because the stage soundman, Phil, knew what he was doing and gave us a great mix on stage. Ned, Malcolm and I gelled and it was not missed by the crowd of several hundred.

The band ripping it up at the Upton Blues Festival!

Mission accomplished, we departed Upton and took a side road to the small village of Pershore where we landed at the Angel Inn and Posting House for a proper Sunday dinner. The Angel is one of those “off the map” kind of places you read about in travel magazines; one of the pleasant surprises you’re rewarded with for getting off the beaten track. Well, back on the beaten track and our SAT NAV guides us back home without error. What a weekend.

This past Monday afternoon Ned and I took to the streets and visited the South Bank of the River Thames with 15,000 of our closest tourist friends. While crossing Tower Bridge, there was a din of car horns blaring. The London cabbies were protesting the Olympic road restrictions by clogging traffic on the bridge. Just minutes after we crossed one cabbie jumped off the bridge in protest. He’s fine, it’s a relatively short drop to the Thames, but the police were out in force on the bridge and in the air. We’re still trying to find out if the cabbie’s name was Geoff.

Sightseeing’s never complete in London and Tuesday night was a perfect example. Sandra and I started at St. Paul’s Cathedral and made our way across the Millennium Bridge to the South Bank. Though it was the same area Ned and I were at the day prior, it looks quite different at night. All of the bridges and river cruise boats were lit up.

Tonight’s venture included a fine Italian dinner followed by our “flight” on the London Eye, the 443 foot slow-going ferris wheel on the South Bank. It was spectacular! Tomorrow we begin a second run of four gigs in as many nights.

It's finally SUMMER! A fine day of sightseeing with Ned. Observe Tower Bridge with the Olympic Rings!

We and our closest 20,000 tourist friends agree that the 2012 English summer doesn’t suck… unless you’re a London cabbie named Geoff.

Until next time… Cheers! ~ Todd

Hey! How about NEW PHOTOS and a VIDEO from the UK Tour 2012!

Hello from the Olympic City where the weather has become oddly warm and sunny!

Today’s installment is short and to the point…

Click HERE to view the second photo album from the UK Tour 2012. When viewing the photos, depending on how they are displayed in your browser, you may have to click on the "more" link in the upper right to read entire captions... but I think it's often worth the effort :)

Click HERE to view a video of Ned and I performing “Bend Me” recorded live at RGS Entertainment Group’s studio in Milton Keynes last week. Special thanks to Dom Rampello and his crew at RGS for making this happen.

Blog post #5 will be coming soon!

Ciao! ~ Todd

Rolling With Trains

Back in London and it’s time for more sightseeing commencing with an afternoon walkabout at the Victoria and Albert Museum; a vast and eclectic collection of artifacts from across the globe.

The next day Ned and I took the Tube to the Olympic Park. Getting there’s easy enough right now. In two weeks it’s going to be another matter as London is anticipating up to 1 million extra people a day in the city for the games. With economic payback in mind, the Brits have constructed a new shopping mall which we had to navigate to get to park entrance. It turns out you can’t currently enter the park unless you have credentials. Lacking these, the nice security guards invite us to view the outside of the stadium from the top floor of a John Lewis department store. So, we made our way up to the viewing area which is curiously filled with 2012 London Games souvenirs. I did my part to help London pay for the games.

This is as close as you get to the Olympic Stadium right now. View from the John Lewis department store.

We’re not done sightseeing yet! The following day Ned and I took advantage of a break in the weather and boarded a River Thames cruise. We were accompanied by 150 of our closest tourist friends for the leisurely six mile float from city center east to Greenwich. Along the way we passed by the replica of the Globe Theatre, the current London Bridge, The Shard, the HMS Belfast, and Tower Bridge. We also passed by more high-end river view condos than one can shake an umbrella at followed by the massive organized crime district, a.k.a. the new financial district.

Greenwich was a nice break from the hubbub and sirens of London. We made our way to a friendly pub for lunch and then went off to the Royal Naval College and its Painted Hall and Chapel, followed by a look around at the National Maritime Museum. However, we were denied our day’s goal; the Royal Observatory was closed. As you may know, the Observatory is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian Line and thus, the Observatory controls the very fabric of time and the space-time continuum. I don’t know what happens to time when it’s closed. I have to deduce that time simply stops. Oh well… A quick walk by the Cutty Sark and we were on the boat for the cruise back to London in the rain. Our sunny weather break had come to an end, but we made the most of it!

The largest poster in the world, or so we were told, on our River Thames Cruise.

Back to business: It’s time to head west to play gigs at Bath and Liverpool. For no good reason, we stayed up a wee bit late Thursday night and were a wee bit groggy Friday morning. No matter… we can sleep on the train, right? Ned and I boarded the train to Bristol at Waterloo Station, Platform 17, right on time. Our stop at Bath Spa clearly listed on the reader board. As the train rolled away from the platform, the kind voice on the intercom states the train will terminate at Reading, 40 minutes west of London. Hmmm…. That’s not what the reader board indicated. No worries. At Reading, the reader board says the train to Bristol leaves at 10:57 on Platform 7. No worries. At 10:55 we boarded our train. As the train rolled away from the platform, the kind voice on the intercom states the train will terminate at some hamlet down a spur and return to Reading. What the…? We had no choice but to go along for the ride, there and back. Safely back at Reading, we learned that it pays to examine the reader boards more carefully. Just because a train is at the appointed platform two minutes before departure DOES NOT imply it’s your train! No worries. We waited an hour and got on the next train to Bristol. The kind voice in the intercom confirms this. Two minutes into the ride the ticket man stopped by and we handed him our ticket cards. Our tickets are no longer valid. We have two choices: buy relatively expensive tickets on the spot or get off at the next stop and ask to have our tickets revalidated. Off the train we go. Ned pleads our case but to no avail. With new tickets in hand, we boarded the 2:12 train to Bristol and arrive at Bath at 3:30 in pouring rain. We are some savvy travelers, that’s for sure!

The Friday afternoon sky cleared and train travails were forgotten. We checked into our B&B and I ventured off for a walkabout. Bath, cleverly named after its main attraction, ancient Roman Baths, is a perfectly scenic English city of 84,000. While there’s no lack of tourists, tourist shops and restaurants, there’s also no lack of photographic opportunities, especially after a summer rain.

Sandra, who DOES know how to read train station reader boards, successfully arrived from London on time, taking just one train. Saturday the three of us took in the Abbey and the Roman Baths, along with 10,000 of our closest tourist friends, most of whom were Italian teenagers. While waiting in queue to see the Baths, we were surprised to witness a young man wearing a mankini promoting an ice cream shop. We found that odd. It was a fun day.

Mankini Man promoting an ice cream shop in Bath... and in serious need of a tan.

Malcolm, who ALSO knows how to read train station reader boards, arrived from London and the four of us made our way to the Chapel Arts Centre for our gig. It’s a small venue with great acoustics, a great sound system and a competent sound engineer. We got set up, did a sound check and were ready to perform. While the show was lightly attended, we gave it our best and had a great time chatting with many in the audience after the show.

Sunday morning and it’s off to the train station to train it back to London and then immediately board another train to Liverpool. This zigzag doesn’t make intuitive sense as Bath and Liverpool are in the same general region. Ticket pricing logic does not always follow geography. We saved money by taking this odd routing.

We rolled into Liverpool right on time and checked into our Travelodge room, just a short walk from Sunday night’s venue – the Lomax. After a quick set-up I walked a block and stumbled into Beatles Central. You may recall the Fab Four got their start in Liverpool and the city has had a hard day’s night shaking the reputation ever since. Down one street is located Lennon’s Bar, the Rubber Soul Oyster Bar, and the Cavern Club where the Beatles famously performed in 1961. A banner stretching across the street proudly proclaims “Mathew Street – Birthplace of the Beatles!” It’s 6:00 p.m. and the din of multiple rock bands performing permeates the street. The evening’s security guards sporting black attire are already in place.

Back at the Lomax two acoustic acts took the stage before our set. It’s a typically small venue and tonight hosts a good sized crowd. Our performance went really well. Well, up until when the P.A. started popping and cracking like it’s the 4th of July. We had to end our set a couple tunes short. But a shout came from the crowd, “Play acoustic!” So we moved up to the edge of the stage and perform Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.” We won the evening. Click here to see a video of our opening number, “Pure Evil.”

Liverpool's Cavern Club - "Birthplace" of the Beatles.

Playing washboard, shaker and foot tambourine on "Say Goodbye For Both of Us" at the Lomax. Photo by Adrian Wharton.

After a Monday morning walkabout between rain squalls it was time for one more train ride back to London. On board we settled into the Quiet Coach and waited for our 11:46 departure. The kind voice on the intercom states the train will be delayed due to an encounter between a train and an unfortunate human. The train won. As a result, the train lines are in temporary chaos as diversions are made. No worries… it’s understandable. Near the Wimbledon Station our train rolled to a stop. The kind voice on the intercom states the train has lost power. We arrive at London’s Euston Station an hour late. No worries.

But why end the day now? A few hours later Ned, Sandra and I made a five minute walk to the ‘Round Midnight Blues and Jazz Bar where Ned and I performed as a duo for a set. Again, a small venue but it hosted an attentive Monday night crowd.

A midnight Skype session with Natalie caps the day and the weekend. What a nice way to put a period on it. Or an exclamation point!

Until next time… Todd

P.S. – More photos are on the way… I promise!

On Roasted Bones, Hen Parties, and Gravy Wrestling

Welcome back to the 2012 UK Tour! Let’s get caught up. Shall we?

Two days after my last installment, we boarded the train at London’s Liverpool Street Station and headed 100 miles east to the village of Easton in Suffolk to play the Maverick Festival. The festival features the best in Americana and Roots music “from both sides of the Atlantic.” Ned was featured as a solo artist on Saturday afternoon and was enthusiastically received by the crowd gathered in the Moonshine Barn. After the demanded encore, we had time to walk the festival grounds and, among other sights, were as fascinated by Brits wearing country western styled clothing as they are with country music from across the pond. A special treat was brushing shoulders with master song writer and guitarist Alejandro Escovedo in the artists tent. The problem was I had no idea who Alejandro was until so informed by Ned during the taxi ride back to the train station.

Ned and the shootin' guy at the Maverick Festival

Upon arrival back in London, we were able to catch the last minutes of the laser light show emanating from the Shard, London’s newest skyscraper and Europe’s tallest at just over 1,000 feet. For readers familiar with the Lord of the Rings, the Shard’s resemblance to the Tower of Mordor has not been overlooked by Londoners.

The Shard... Or is it the Tower of Mordor?

On July 3, we celebrated Sandra’s birthday at St. John Bread and Wine. St. John’s is noted as specializing in “nose to tail” dining. Our experience was no exception in which Ned and I both enjoyed roasted bone marrow and rabbit saddle (a.k.a. the back) while Sandra dined on sea creatures. Now here’s the thing about roasted bone marrow: It’s a rich, gelatinous substance that’s spread on toast and topped with fresh parsley and onion. The marrow itself is somewhat tasteless but is clearly a gateway food to roasted brain and other animal parts. After dinner, we stopped by the Craft Beer Company Pub where, among our samplings, we tried the 17.5% alcoholic fluid that can only be described as the port of beers with a coffee overtone. This beer is best avoided.

Ummm... Gelatious Bone Marrow! Scoop it out and spread it!

Late last week we embarked on a run of gigs commencing with an evening at Jagz CafĂ© at Ascot located near the famous horse track. The following day we headed northwest to play the Festival of Firsts in Wirral (near Liverpool). For this trip Sandra drove us in a rented car on the M1, M5 and M6. The 230 miles took SEVEN hours to negotiate. Imagine seven hours of rush hour traffic in the rain. That was the drive… Bravo Sandra! We arrived just in time to set up and play our duo set at the Hoylake Chapel. A great crowd and great acoustics made the evening memorable. Saturday afternoon started with Ned performing a solo set at the Vanilla Lounge after which we took in an entertaining performance of the Wirral Ukulele Orchestra. That evening we had the headliner slot at Jack Rabbit Slims and proceeded through our set with Malcolm joining Ned and I despite the, shall we say “challenged,” sound system.

The Wirral Ukulele Orchestra in Action

Packed up and in the car, we drive the hour to Burnley for a rest at the Keirby Park Hotel. On the "dive" scale where 1=total dive and 10=just below a room at a Comfort Inn, the Keirby rates a 4 due to there being no toilet paper, no TV, no phone, and no soap. The rooms DO have a sign advising that the water is not suitable for drinking... we thought that was a nice touch. Oh well, it’s a place to sleep. BUT NOT, not until the hen party has passed by on the street below.  A hen party you ask? Well it’s a bachelorette party. In this case, literally hundreds of young women pass by on the sidewalk five floors below for an hour. I have been known to exaggerate; this is not such an occasion.  A Nyquil capsule is administered to encourage sleep on the surface masquerading as a mattress.

The Hen Party in the Street Below

Having survived the hotel and hen party, we make the short drive to small town of Bacup, Lancashire. We’ve played the football club in Bacup in the past and Ned has a loyal following. Unlike past visits, we have hours to spare before we play so we stop at the Rose-n-Bowl pub. Unassuming from the outside, the Rose is bustling with activity inside and out back where there’s a lawn bowling green in use by multiple teams. It was fun to watch. However, what would have been more fun to watch had our timing been better is the annual gravy wrestling contest. Our waitress was kind enough to bring us photos of this sloppy event.

Ummm... Gravy Wrestling!

The gig at the football club went over really well with an attentive audience and was a fine cap on our weekend outing. With Malcolm at the wheel and little traffic at night, we arrive London at 4:00 a.m. Luckily, there are no hen parties taking place outside Sandra’s flat.

Late at Night on the M1
More to come! Cheers! ~ Todd