Made it through Swindon. The P.A. at the pub didn't work but a guy ran and got one and without a soundcheck we got everything going in front of a Saturday night crowd - some of them were enthralled and some openly disliked us but I tried to stay positive and keep my eyes on those enjoying it and the nice woman who'd got us there in the first place - she wants to put music on in a town where the majority are not interested but it doesn't mean she shouldn't try. Whether we choose to go back and play that place is another matter...maybe she can find a better venue? See, I'm ever hopeful. It's up and down. In Sheffield we had our first dressing room in a week: a clean warm, safe place to put our stuff and eat a little something - but there was not a poster in sight for our show in a club full of posters for upcoming shows. The soundman was good, attentive, on time - but they barely turned the heat on in the room where we played so people sat visibly shivering and clutching coats around them during the show. Still, I did enjoy playing and meeting everyone after - one of the benefits of a small crowd.
Bristol had mostly pluses - the Thunderbolt is run by a man who cares, and he's always trying to make the place better. The soundman's good and was there the last time we played so it was easy. The weather was foul but a nice crowd came out and they're there for us, standing right up by the front - it's like being among friends...I know that sounds corny but I feel at home in the Thunderbolt.
The other thing that was good was we know a decent restaurant up the street from other times we've played there, so we ate a proper dinner beforehand which I enjoyed so much - just sitting there in the after work crowd - I even had a glass of good Somerset cider.
Two nights in Premier Inns and so there were no issues with the hotel - Premier's are consistent, and whenever you check in they remind you of their "Good Night Guarantee" which we probably could have held them to back in Gateshead where the people were bouncing overhead - if you're not happy with your stay they promise a full refund.
Worcester was a lovely drive after Swindon, with snow on the hills here and there - I had a chance to play American, going "ooh" and "how pretty, so old-fashioned!" every few minutes. We did a simple house concert in the afternoon for a wonderful family who served us lamb casserole and set us up in the dining room to play - it was the rare concert where we sang and played without mics which is so intimate, I found it very moving but fun at the same time.
The Marrs Bar in Worcester is a good club, Brian the owner even cooked us dinner (yes, we ate two Sunday dinners) but the soundman had called in sick and they were breaking in a new guy who has probably only just started shaving let alone doing sound. He tried very hard but there were some problems during the show that threatened to capsize the whole thing - we finally pulled through and I'm glad it didn't completely break down because there was a nice Sunday audience there.
Another Premier Inn, another decent sleep and then a risky proposition - for the short drive to Liverpool, I asked if we could stop at the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent. The chances to do anything "cultural" have been rare on this trip, so it seemed like this was our chance. But Eric had a story about Stoke on Trent involving a room above a pub, a man named Mike and a grubby sleeping bag. And we'd already visited the Porcelain Museum in Limoges which stands as one of the all time worst museums in the world.
But we took a chance and what a place - I've always been an addict of plates, cups and teapots, and seeing the words stamped "Made In England" on the bottom of a jug in a thrift store would cause my eyes to mist over and hands to tremble, such was the exotic pull of this country (before I'd ever been to Swindon). We didn't have a lot of time to spend but it was a fabulous museum in a very hard-looking town.
And Liverpool? Liverpool was a surprise - a short-notice gig on a Monday that turned out excellent. From driving up to the front of the club and seeing a massive poster for us outside, to the place itself, a small rock venue absolutely perfect if not for the fact that it was so freezing during soundcheck we had to have two space heaters at the front of the stage next to the monitors. The night took on a magic quality when I ran outside to check on the car parked illegally out front and a parking warden who was circling the car with his ticket book out put it away and said "no worries then" when I told him we were performing. The gang who run the place were lovely, the salt and pepper chips and Chinese food hot and spicy, the young guy strumming his guitar in the bar downstairs an amalgam of John Lennon, Lee Mavers and Ian McCulloch. I realized I was happy. Maybe it was partly because this was almost the last show - but I was happy.
We played to a small audience, it being Monday and last minute it would have been shocking to play to more. It felt fine.
And when we checked into another Premier Inn at 3 AM, the kindly desk clerk who looked like Jim Broadbent but was called Mr. Clapton said "You can go ahead and park in the handicapped space" and then helped us carry all the guitars and stuff to our room.
The next morning, I went to run a bath - but there was no hot water.
We were clearly on a roll.
It trips off the tongue so easily: "Good Night Guarantee".