USA, Canada and Japan (August 1999)
We just played a House Concert In Portland. Casey Neill a songwriter , who first heard me play in Cork 3 years ago, opened up his house and garden for us to play a gig, on the wooden deck, flowers lined the edge of the stage. The deck also served as a tapdancing board and gave me more freedom than my portable piece of square yard! Publicity was spread over the community radio station. where we also sang songs and were interviewed live earlier in the day. 30 people showed up and kids, paid there $10 each and chairs had been borrowed and placed in the garden. Blankets were also laid out. some foljks brought their own drinks and picnic. We started at 7pm. twilight. The accoustics were great outside, fresh air, sky, trees, shrubs. An inquisitive dog barked at my harmonica next door, (dogs always become excited/disturbed by reed instruments i.e. bagpipes, mouth organs etc.) kids played on the slide in the neighbours garden on the other side and a young teen ager started hosing the flower bed near the fence, whhich started to wet one of the guests, (Casey leaned over to ask them if she could avoid watering the plants there for this evening, we all shouted out "thankyous" "Love thy neighbour" etc. all hilarious and welcome distractions. We took a break for water and homemade cookies, Candles and torches were lit for our seond set as the sun went down, which gave a magical ambience and listening atmosphere for the songs, stories and overall focus of our performance. we were all lucky with the weather, rain kept away. I stopped myself playing my loud fat fretless bass kazoo (trombone) We finished aound 10pm.
Played In Corvalis in A small old wooden courtroom, played in a cafe called soakers in Gold Beach the southern coast of Oregon, Kath, Laurie, and Dave promoted. The drive up to our next gig, a house concert in Florence took us through the largest sand dunes, following sea and river on the way. Tired from driving and no days off, a hired car down from Vancouver BC, which we had to return and fly from all the way back down again to North California our next leg of gigs. Things are mad as its 4.58 am and I am just going to bed at the end of Edmonton Festival, Jamming, party for musicians and volunteers, A rich weekend, but very long days, big names were Joan Armatrading, Joan Baez, jimmy cliff , Irma Thomas and Loudon Wainwright, and The Mcgarriggle sisters, nancy Griffiths etc etc and hundreds more. We went to visit a Hudderite community Near Bassano, 2 hours away from Calgary in Alberta, called "Clear view" there are at least seven colonies in the area.
We drove down a gravel road through flat landscape of wheat fields either side into a farm through a gate which had a "No Tresspassing" warning sign up. There were blocks of white single floor houses in rows in the farm community area. we parked and a door opened, a woman of 50+ dressed in dark long dress and spotted bonnet came out to welcome us. We met her, her name is Rachel and Annie there two sisters, who has a daughter called Rachel, David their nephew, was the Chicken man. "David Chickenbox" or "chickenpox" you can call me. He is a father of three. He wore a cotton mauve checkered shirt, with braces and a hat. Aimees cousin Andrea told us that some amount of in breeding might happen, nowadays they might travel further away i.e. to U.S.A. Hudderite colonies to find partners. The woman would go with the husbands family. This colony had 95 people. "We speak Low German and read high German." David told me.
Their religion is Lutheran, their forefathers came from a part of Russia way back-originally. They aren't allowed to travel for pleasure they can only be flown to see a specialist Doctor, they have strict dress codes too, The women wear bonnetts and tie their braided hair up tightly so that it can't be seen, they wear long dresses. They make everything they own, their own clothes from fabric that they buy outside, make their own hats, shoes, knotted rugs, wine, bread, all except for Tractors and trucks and specialised farm machinery i.e. computerised milking machines. Rachael had electric fan, clocks etc. Small Rachael was asked by her mum to sing, she wasn't too shy and she sung us a song about wanting to go to heaven and a folk song called "Little boxes", instruments aren't allowed but they all sing. Some rules are not strictly adhered to, I'm told they might drink the odd beer now and again ,and a keyboard is owned and gets played. Andrea told us that she saw a couple of Hudderite men in a bar in town, and asked them if they wanted to drink a beer, they did, she surprised the two men when she paid for the beer, a week or two later the men came looking for her with a bottle of home made wine they had brought with them to re-pay her for the beer she bought them. They are a very proud people, and very self sufficient.
Aimee and I played and sang a song on Mouth organ and Bodhran they enjoyed it and kept asking for another. It seems that the mouthy was allowed. Rachel gave us fresh peas to pop and munch, some home-made root beer, orange, coffee. Dave had to walk using crutches he had a metal knee. Which slowed him down a little. Dave showed me his domain, thousands of battery chickens, feathers everywhere three hens to a hutch, rows and rows of hutches some 50-100 yards long. all egg layers, their environment is controlled by a computer which sets times an temperatures for 24 hours. Lights turn off to simulate nigh time so the hens can sleep, routine hours, chicken feed is fed from a huge funnel cone from outside. There's a conveyor belt to which the eggs roll as they are laid, and collected at the end in another room by a boy or man and checked and put into egg boxes and sent to supermarkets like Safeways. David showed me the blacksmiths workshop, machines are made for tube bending, 2" lathes, showed me the woodwork carpentry shop where furniture etc is made. I asked Dave he told me that the men must grow a beard when they marry but a moustache is not allowed. It was a hot day I started to take off my shirt as we walked across the farm, Dave told me. "That's a no no, you must wear a shirt here" I had consciously brought a shirt for that purpose and a waistcoat. the Kids are taught a normal Canadian curriculum in the community, Government teachers come in from outside. They don't have their own Doctors. The dairy, Dave led me to, was brand new, the cows were brought in by a young boy in traditional braces, shirt, and trousers. The cows were led through the mechanical stile and stood in their place as their teats/udders were wiped by a hygene wipe and attached to the sucking hoses milk bubbled out into the hoses. I was told that the cows were kept inside that they were given silage to feed and didn't graze in fields. A controlled cool temperature was kept to recreate the outside climate.
Davids brother lived here too, his parents had moved to another community. Another farmworker asked me where I was from and was curious to know what we grew in Scotland. He hated Sheep! Back at the house of Rachael and we were asked to play and sing more songs, David admired my Mouthorgan. "You gotta lot of breath he said to play that thing. He sung "The wreck of the old 89" accapella but mimed the strumming of a guitar as he sang. The 2 teenage girls wouldn't sing for us as they were missing two other voices. Rachael gave Aimee some hand knitted socks and a babies quilt she had embroidered and made for her own daughter. She started loading up a bag full of bread, chocolates and a bottle of home made root beer and some cut sugared fresh strawberries. Andrea told me afterwards that the women thought I was a film star, at first they thought I was a woman as I didn't have very short hair and was shaven. Japan. We were picked up by a mini bus and driver and driven straight through Tokyo on the way in from Airport to the Festival site. 5 Hours drive from Tokyo the fest was in the National parklands of Naeba, a ski resort in the winter that functioned as a hotel, etc for the fest in the summer. Thousands of Japanese youth came by bus and bullet train to see and hear rock music heroes of theirs. A youthfull crowd, dyed hair, shaven heads, tattooed, pierced, all kinds of looking japanese folks. The festival is based on the Glastonbury festival idea and is described by the promoters as a way of helping to break or bend Japanese societies rigid life routines and patterns, the structured work ethic bringing folks together to realise the other worlds that are possible to live, some kids were witnessing live music for the first time, some of their heroes were playing, songs they know the words to, so they were singing along with the rest of their "Tribe" raising hands, celebrating, positive energy.
The frustration and aggression created by city stress could be released here in the beautiful country side, towering mountains surrounding the festival, sounds reverberating off the green forested hill sides, the kids could see their icons idols in the flesh who came to play and sweat under the hot sun and spot lights. A hot Sun shone at 33 degrees! Aimee and I camped high up on a hill on the festival site in tents outside, most performers stayed at the hotel. A London posse of friends were working at the festival who work for promoters "Smash" in London also camped out together, friends I hadn't seen much since we moved up to Scotland were working on site, decorating it with Huge Dragon fly, drawings ribbons etc.The whole parkland area was breeding ground for thousands of dragon flies, they landed on peoples hats, knees, shoulders, guy ropes. all kinds of beautiful insects were sighted, also a snake was sighted and a few lizards. A cold river ran through the sight fed by mountain waters falls. In Japan there's a mixture of Buddhism and Shinto which is not so religious but more part of peoples spiritual life everyday. I was amazed by the nobility and respectful behaviour of the Japanese there. Also the honesty, i saw people leaving video cameras, computers, bags, belongings in places and they were always left there, untouched, there seemed to be little or no thieving at all. Perhaps because of the affluence and high standard of living for most people there is little need to steal or pilfer. At this huge festival litter was dutifully separated by everyone into burn-able rubbish, plastic, cans etc. dog ends were even picked up.
To name a few only, ZZ top heavy blues rock played and stepped like cartoon figures, two men with long Rip Van winkle beards and dark sun glasses, Joe Strummer and the Mescelaroes, Ray Davies without the Kinks played his sing-along hits, Skunk Anansie, black girl punk singer from London with shaved head jumped like a cat around the mainstage licking her band and looking cheeky, Blur played, a band called Underworld played techno music and performed with a singer and back projection show. Big video screens showed close ups, long -shots, crowd-shots, vision mixed on the spot with many different cameras all over the stage on dollies and way back for the long shots. Big Production! Main stage was a Huge high stage, speakers stacked some 20 meters high. U.S.A. Marines based in Japan were hired and used for security, to assist crowd surfers and spray crowds with water to cool them down and feed water them against dehydration. Everyone of the three days was a burning hot 33 degrees and everyone needed to drink water and wear cold wet towels around their necks. Some slept under shade in the afternoons.
Other stages were the white stage, and a dance tent which played dance music all night till 5 am. Which kept waking us up, difficult when we had to rise early everyday to play first on stage at 10 am. Aimee and I Played 10 minute slots or two songs each morning to open the main green stage (where lots of young Japanese kids awaited to hear their rock heroes play their power chords.) and 30 minute slots in the "Field of heaven," which was a more low key, organic kind of music stage, each day. There was some arrogance noticed from Rock Stars ZZ Top, sheltered and protected from the public. Maybe that's what happens when you tour the world, get famouse and too many people know you and want bits of you. You hide away. Not speaking a countrys' language Japanese can make you feel like a child, ordering food and reading signs etc. I felt like this the short time I was there, unable to talk and to meet everyone there, though a few folks spoke and understood English and everyone seemed patient and pleased to help.
I got a journalist Koichi to translate for me a couple of times to let people know what my songs/stories were about. It took a year to plan, book everyone. There are Still some things that need to be changed improved and evolve at the festival as they are realised and as they are needed. As always by getting feedback from people. ie mugs would be better than styrofoam throaways. Food tickets tghat can be used at any food stall, as we never had time to go to the specified hotel to eat, as we were too busy playing. Back to Tokyo on Monday before we had to depart wednesday.We stayed in big flash hotel, took baths and slept between fresh cotton sheets and ordered room service food. It felt like a honeymoon holiday suddenly, spoiling ourselves after a long, busy weekend! I tried to get to see and eat Sushi at the Tokyo fishmarket at 4am in the morning but after playing at Solomans Blue Nile resteraunt for the post fest party, i wastoo tired and sore throated, I just had to sleep before the next jet lagged or bedlagged journey! we get home sept 7th.