Bemused GB Boys Still Boldly Braving Britain's Byways; Beleaguered yet Buoyant
March 15 - made a sojourn down to the seaside town of Portsmouth to play for the Bullfrog Blues Club in the Royal Marine Artillery Tavern, an old soldier's club transformed into a standard pub. Met a great couple named Matt and Heather, who told us a lot about the history of Portsmouth. The most interesting historical tidbit learned was that an incident of proportions akin to the sinking of the Titanic occurred on July 19th, 1545 right in the Portsmouth harbor: a Henry VIII era warship called The Mary Rose sank in an engagement with the French, not due to French prowess but to English incompetence - the ship was packed to the brim with men, and sank under the weight. The remains of the ship were raised in 1982 and are on display in the museum, which we were unable to visit for lack of time. There were some pretty incredible finds, including a bevy of incredibly well preserved artifacts. Doh! Will have to check it out next time.
March 16 - Went back to London for the afternoon to play at a Resource Centre in Brixton. It turns out "Resource Centre" is some sort of vague euphemism for mental health/recovering addicts clinic. It was unclear what their problems were, but it was clear that these individuals were dealing with afflictions of varying degrees. They all seemed to love the music (aside from one large, brash woman who kept asking us to play Irish music - St. Paddy's day was the following day). According to a friend of ours, these types of clinics are in effect a type of safety net to catch all those who get filtered through the NHS and end up getting "temporarily" cast aside or outright ignored for whatever reason.
In a classically Groanbox-paradox maneuver, we drove out to Sturminster Newton in Dorset that night to play in a beautiful 17th century tavern called the Fiddleford Inn. We had a delicious, fresh meal, and keen, listening audience who really grooved to our music. It went down so well that Liz the owner invited us to come back this coming Sunday for a lunchtime performance. We met some great people, including a cool Franco-Algerian gypsy jazz guitarist named JP and his wife Fiona. A lovely couple named Dave and Mandy (the vintage Volkswagen van repair/refurbishment experts in the UK) generously invited us to stay in their home that night, which saved us from driving two and a half hours back to London that night.
From Portsmouth to London to a large, comfortable bed in Dorset in one day!
March 17 - Made our way back to London and got ready for our St. Patrick's Day gig at Green Note in Camden. A good friend of mine who's now studying in London, John-William Carroll, showed up and cheered us on the whole night. A bunch of other familiar faces were in the audience...it's great to know that we've got some loyal fans in London. Also, a journalist from the Independent named Ben came with his girlfriend. He liked it so much that he's going to be doing a piece on us for the music section of the paper! After the gig, we went up to this popular kebab-cum-music venue on Chalk Farm Road in Camden with the Boot, where we were recognized by a lovely girl who'd seen us in a couple venues around town. Small world..
March 18 - Went down to Polegate to play at our old haunt the Junction Tavern, saw some familiar faces, had a great time, and crashed from exhaustion pretty earlier on, but not before a ping pong match with the owners Michelle and Harry (they destroyed me).
March 19 - After a night of rest in Polegate, made it over to Brighton to play in the excellent venue "The Greys" run by the great music devotee Chris Beaumont. Bounced around town with the Freedom Boot, ran into a fan of ours who'd seen us in London who galavanted over to us shouting "The Groanbox Boys!" and letting us know he'd be catching us at Bom-Bane's, another Brighton venue we'll be playing tomorrow night. After a great chance encounter with the psychedelic rocker Arthur Brown at Jane Bom-Bane and Nick Pynn's venue, we went over to the Greys to get ready. We had a great response from the wonderful patrons, and sped back up to London.
March 20 - Tore over to Swindon to do a radio spot with Mark Seaman on BBC Swindon & Wiltshire to promote our gig at the Beehive the next day. Mark was great, very professional, and asked us good questions about who are as individuals and as a musical entity. If I find an archive of it online, I'll post it here...
March 21 - Back to London to play one at the Royal Brompton Hospital, both in the café and in the wards. These hospital gigs are some of the most emotionally poignant performances we do. We played in the children's ward for the cutest little kids, some of whom are connected to tubes, others who have less physically evident - but frequently more devastating - ailments. I chased a couple around with my harmonica, while Michael shook the boot. Played for some older folks too, who seemed to really enjoy our renditions of the Delmore Brothers' tunes.
Sped off to Swindon to do a gig at the Beehive, which went down very well. We connected with the place because Swindon is historically an old train town - it was selected in 1840 to house the railway works for the Great Western Railway.
Crashed on a couch there that night, and woke up bright and early to head over to Harefield.
March 22 - Returned to the strange spiritual nexus of the Groanbox spirit - Harefield Hospital, where our cd Smokestack Trilogy was recorded. Donned scrubs to play in the Cardiac Theatre for the staff, then went and played in the café, followed by a tour of the wards, where the sweet people listened with more profound attention than at any standard venue we have played. Many thanks to Victoria Hume for organizing everything and taking pics of us at the hospitals.
Hopped over to the Crown and Treaty in Uxbridge (near Harefield) to play for the pub patrons. Our close friend Oscar Cainer was kind enough to come down and play a fantastic set of his great fingerstyle folk songs. The crowd absolutely loved the Boot, so we did a couple extra percussive boot-stompin' numbers.
We then packed up, and roamed back to London for a night of well-needed rest.
Tonight we're at Brook's Blues Bar in Putney...should be a good one.
The endless driving has caused us to create a series of eccentric characters, all bizarre concoctions boiled in the sticky, stewy cauldron of our subconscious minds. Will probably devote an entire entry to all of these. Over and out...-Cory