The Groanbox Blog

Friday, March 30, 2007

Approaching the End

We've had an incredible time since last week's post. For want of time I will relate an overview of what's happened.

Friday the 23rd at Brook's Blues Bar in a swank venue called the Telegraph in Putney we had perhaps the best gig of the tour in terms of sound quality and performance level. Ann and Tony, dear friends of ours, really have a good thing going on at that place, and it was a real treat to be in their hands for the night.

Saturday the 24th we went down to Brighton after spending the night at our great musician friend Simon Praeger's house, where we were spoiled with good tunes and tasty food. We played at Jane Bom-Bane's wonderful little cafe full of interesting gadgets, including an animated dvd cartoon of aesop's fables embedded into two tables called "aesop's tables", and a wind chime triggered by the removal of a salt shaker from one of the tables. It was a great night, we love Jane, her music is totally original, harrowing, yet beautiful.

From Brighton we took off at 8 am on Sunday the 25th to hit up the Fiddleford Inn in Dorset for our lunchtime gig there. Michael ate a bacon sandwich, the first bit of meat he'd eaten in a long while, since the food is of such good quality. It was great to be invited back there by Liz the owner, since we're treated like kings, the people are wonderful, and the food is delicious. Gypsy swing guitarist Jipe Gerardin and his wife Fiona graciously invited us back to crash at their farm cottage a couple of miles down the road. We went for a long walk along an old railway line, saw pheasants and deer, came back had a delicious feast of Italian food, played some swingin' tunes and stayed up talking until the wee hours.

We then took off in the late morning, only to get stuck in the awful London Monday afternoon traffic, lamenting having left Dorset. Stopped in Michael's flat for a quick freshening up, and tore down to Gillingham in Kent to play at a 17th century pub called the Barge, which from the outside looks like someone's home, but on the inside looks like the hold of an old schooner, with low beamed ceilings, wood paneling, and odd bits of shipping esoterica strewn all over. Tim the owner showed us his own zob stick, a slightly different version of our Boot. Had a great, albeit surreal gig there, then went down and tapped on the windows of the Man of Kent, where Rob was stoking the fire before hitting the sack. His wife Heather had called us the day before and extended an invitation to crash there since we were to be in Kent for two days, so we decided to take them up on the kind offer. We slept on some incredibly comfortable sofas, and were joined by Dude the meowing dog who slept on my bed, wedging himself into my armpit.

The next day we walked around Rochester with Rob, then went and said hi to Stuart at Oranges to take a photo, and then headed over to the lovely Roffen where we played an hour set for John Adams' popular Bottleneck Blues Club, that had an audience of about a hundred utterly silent people. They loved it. At the end of the night went back to the Man of Kent, played a couple of tunes with some of the local musicians playing there, and crashed (me with Dude again) on the couches.
Took off around mid day on Wednesday the 28th, went and chilled out a bit, met up with Yann aka the Amazing Rolo, who's Nintendo Wii Loop Machine Software is taking the internet by storm. Went down to Angel for a gig at Sam Lee, Joe Buirski, and Lauren McCormick's Magpie's Nest, a happening folk club akin to the 60s coffeehouses, slammed with all sorts of people, and played with a cool English "old folk" group called the Faustus. It went down gangbusters, and saw some familiar faces, including our friend and kindred spirit Luis Tariq, and Sumana, a buddhist friend we met at a little venue in east London last year.

Last night played a nice intimate gig in Twickenham for the second Brook's Blues Bar shows, which was preceded by one of Ann's amazing, abundant feasts. Michael had some pickup issues in his accordion, so we played acoustically the first set. It was nice to unplug for a bit, and then play a louder second set, with Yann joining in for a couple of numbers at the end.
Anyway, I'm sure there's a lot more to recount, but we have to head up to Buckingham pretty soon, followed by Manchester tomorrow, so I've gotta sign off.
All I can say is that everywhere we've played, we've received incredibly warm and positive responses, met some wonderful, generous people, and been invited back. It has been an amazing experience. 24 performances down, two to go...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bemused GB Boys Still Boldly Braving Britain's Byways; Beleaguered yet Buoyant

Well, it feels like years have gone by since the last post. It's hard to recall exactly what's happened, so I guess I'll relate some snippets from each performance...This is a long one, so be forewarned...skimming may be necessary!

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'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

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mid-week newsflash

Some missives transmitted from the halal, shisha filled internet cafe in Walthamstow, north London:

Monday we were in a great little venue in Ashford, Kent called Oranges run by the great Stuart Barton, a wonderful man who resists the steady and unrelenting megamall-ification of his little town by keeping his pub open to everyone and making a keen effort to bring in good live music every week. The pub now lies in the shadow of gargantuan cranes and slabs of concrete that will morph into a huge shopping center, transforming Ashford into a chain store hub resembling everything we resent about the US. An old friend of the Seznec family, Judy Stewart, stopped in from Hastings to see us play. It was great to see her, and was certainly an interesting juxtaposition of worlds, a collision of my past in the Middle East with my present as a member of the GBB performing in venues around the UK. Very surreal to say the least.

Tuesday we went down to funky Brighton, a seaside city about an hour from London to do a radio spot on 107.2 Juice FM (local radio) to promote the two shows we're doing there next week. We played a couple tunes and talked on air about the Orwellian nature of the ubiquitous cameras that abut every major edifice in this city and that flash you if you go too fast on every possible road. We'll probably devote a whole post to these as they have been the subject of much discussion.

Last night we played in one of the coolest venues we've done yet, a little pub called the Man of Kent Ale House in Rochester, Kent run by a great husband and wife team named Rob and Heather. They have a fantastic selection of local and non-local microbrews on tap, a great intergenerational clientele, and a really warm, intimate room that makes everyone feel comfortable.
We played our hearts out. It was a real treat.

The photos are of Ashford (cranes et al) and Rochester (castle and dog). The castle is on the water in Rochester and dates to the late Norman period (12th century), the walls being built on the old Roman ones, and the dog, "Dude" is Rob and Heather's awesome little border terrier.

Monday, March 12, 2007

News from the UK Tour Front

Just a quick little post to say that three gigs in to it, we're going strong, but man is the driving getting to us. The worst is within the M25 - the London Orbital (beltway), where there are endless amounts of traffic regardless of the time or day. Argh! Solutions must be found before the great swaths of time spent shifting gears in our Vauxhall Cavalier tampers with our mental state to the point where our music becomes a mechanical enterprise simulating the act of frustrated driving, a cacophonous symphony by two clownish automatons spewing out meaningless bits of drivel comical only to ourselves...the first signs of lunacy. Getting to and from Walthamstow is the hardest part, so we will be asking a friend of Michael's if we can stay at his place in southwest London, which is far closer to the M25 and to our gig destinations, and far better for our minds.

On a far more positive note, we spent an amazing day basking in the warmth of Bath, playing for a really great crowd spanning all ages and lifestyles at the Bell Inn, and had two great shows at the Simple Simon (a really neat little music venue) up in Warwick and the cool Keystone pub down in Surrey.

The first pic was taken in front of the Simple Simon, which has its own van with chalkboards on the sides to promote their upcoming shows. The second was taken yesterday in Bath.

More later, when the internet connection abides...