A Journey to CP Lee and the Dylanologists
Peter took his first trip to the U.K. in May 1999. Along the way he stayed with some longtime Dylanologists, CP Lee, Alan Fraser, Matthew Zuckerman and Craig Jamieson.
Like The Night with CP Lee
It is shortly before 11, Friday Morning and I am in CP’s office at the University of Salford. The flight over took 7 hours. Very strange seeing a sunset and sunrise in that time. 777 very claustrophobic, but the dinner was good and they had a lot of cool movies to watch. The best thing was one of the channels showed where the plane was. It flew up the East Coast to Nova Scotia and turned right and straight on over Ireland (which I couldn’t see at all) into London. But then when the plane landed, the doors to the thing that takes you from the plane to the airport wouldn’t open and we sat on the damn plane for 15 or 20 minutes before they got it to work. Finally we got off the damn thing, and I had 45 minutes or less to make my next plane.
First I had to walk for what seemed like miles following these connection signs to end up at the bottom a stairway in line behind a locked door waiting for a bus to the next terminal. No one says or explains anything. Finally the bus comes and it’s off the the next terminal. Keep in mind it’s about 7 in the morning here, but for me 2am in real life. At the next terminal you ended up walking again forever only to get in line again to go through the metal detector BS, and they check you out with the dectector too. Meanwhile time is getting short for the connecting plane. So I make it through there only to end up in another line where they check your immigration card that you fill out on the plane. And this one is taking FOREVER!!!! So I kind of force my way to the front of the line as I now have less than 15 minutes to make the connecting flight, give them the appropriate answers, only to walk for more miles in these weird connecting tube things. At this point I’ve been awake for about 22 hours and there’s hardly any signs or any indication how much further to the damn plane.
Finally I reach the terminal and I’m really nuts, WHERE’S THE PLANE TO MANCHESTER? and this lady says oh I’ll tell them to hold it for you only to walk like another mile down another weird tube and somehow I broke a fingernail shifting my heavy shoulder bag and my finger’s bleeding and there’s still no plane in sight. Finally I get on the plane and I’m a complete mess, sweating, bleeding, disheveled, exhausted, and sit down, at least the seats weren’t as claustrophobic as the jumbo jet where they really jam you in and of course some baby behind me starts wailing. Now even though the flight was less than an hour, they actually give you breakfast on the flight (where American airlines would throw you a peanut). Well there was barely time to eat it (not that I cared) because about five minutes after it was served they announce we’re landing (flight too less than 30 mins.) So we land and it’s on to more strange hallways and finally the luggage carousel and my luggage does not appear. So of course at this time I wanna turn around and go home. So I go up to the desk and they give me a form, and by this time I’m totally ballistic and trying to keep cool ’cause I haven’t gone through customs yet, and demanding I WANNA KNOW WHERE MY LUGGAGE IS NOW! I have a guitar on there that’s worth $2,000 and if I don’t know WHERE IT IS RIGHT NOW I’M GONNA SUE THE SHIT OUT OF YOU! So they give me a form to take to the customs guy who’s directly opposite the no luggage counter. Now the plus side to this was since my luggage wasn’t there it made going through customs a breeze. Now during all this I thought I heard my name in an announcement, but it didn’t happen again, and they only announced it once. So finally they said we have your luggage and it will be on the next plane and we will deliver it to you. So finally I’m free and I walk down another hall (not 10 miles this time) and there is CP Lee waiting for me. And I say I NEED a cigarette. And then we get in a British Cab which looks like something out of the 30s or 40s – the rear door opens the other way like a Lincoln Continental – and go to his house and I can’t believe I’m in England.
There’s double-decker busses and all the cars are small, and the architecture is much different. CP’s about a year older than me, and finally we get to his house where he has a ton of Dylan videos ’cause he’s now writing a book about Dylan in film and a ton of CDs and mini-discs and it’s kind of like Dylan heaven so I start to finally relax even though at this point I am totally wired and spaced.
The weather here is warm and quite beautiful though it was cloudy in the morning. We hung out in his house waiting for the luggage which arrived after a couple of hours and then went for a walk. CP doesn’t drive though his wife Pam does, and he walks FAST! We went to a supermarket and I was kind of amazed to see all American brands. It was quite nice actually, nicer than the ones in Philly and of course the ones in NYC. Then of course we went to a pub.
The pubs are much different than bars. For one thing, they are well-lit, with rugs on the floors, paintings on the walls and little (usually very old) wooden table and chairs. There are no stools and you only go to the bar to get your beer. And then it was back, fell out sitting up in a chair. So he suggested I crash for awhile and I fell out instantly. Woke up an hour or 2 later to a really nice Mexican lamb stew. By this time CP’s wife Pam was home, and after dinner they drove me around Manchester. Some great gothic architecture. But it is also a combination of old and new. Kids skateboarding in the square in front of Manchester Town hall.
The way they drive here is kind of insane and that’s aside from driving on the left side of the road. A lot of stuff here is reversed including the handles on toilets. We stopped in another Pub and then had to get back because Pam had to see ER. Of course by this time, I really don’t know what time it is. But I have my own room and I fell out instantly into HEAVY sleep.
So now I’m a little more coherent and ready to check out England.
It is Tuesday morning, and I am back in CP’s office in Salford. Yesterday was a holiday for May day–they do the same Monday holiday thing here that we do.
We went to a street festival near the ruins of an ancient Roman fort. CP is just an amazing and extremely generous person. His knowledge is incredible and all the little tours of Manchester are punctuated with amazing amounts of history from ancient times to more recent IRA bombings.
He’s turned out to be more of a character than I could possibly imagine. I had a feeling he was someone special when he visited me last year, but he’s actually quite a maniac. He’s a professor of media and film at the University of Salford, and he has long (well, bald on top) grey, wiry, curly hair and a sort of goatee, it’s not really a goatee, just under his lip, but not beneath his chin, he loves to wear suits and act the part of a British gentleman. But on the other hand, he is the essence of a raconteur. He can speak in a million accents, all the British, Irish, Scottish Gaelic ones, and turn around and talk like Dr. John or a NYC Mafioso perfectly. You never know which voice he’s gonna use next.
His knowledge of music is immense, as his is knowledge of history, literature, theater and politics. It’s astounding. He took me all over Manchester, an excellent tour guide, filling me in on all the historical details. His house is filled with Bob posters, lots of CDs, and a wealth of other music as well, everything from traditional folk to Capt. Beefheart.
He was in a sort of punk band in the mid to late ’70s, Alberto Y Los Trios de paranoias, that put on a regular show at a theater in London and even had their own TV show (Nick Lowe was once a member). But they were much more than that, they parodied rock, but had all kinds of skits and props to go with it. He was hired to sing with Frank Zappa (by Zappa) and turned it down. He’s known an astounding array of people from Hendrix to Chicago blues singers, and every day reveals a little more. He thinks nothing of standing up in a bar and breaking into some ancient English ballad. So that’s just some of the reasons why this past week has been an amazing experience.
He’s funny, hip in the best sense and brilliant. He arranged the whole thing, getting me whatever gigs I had. Most of the gigs, were in pubs and audiences usually appreciative. Manchester apparently is considered low on the totem pole of English cities, but I dug it a lot. Amazing architecture everywhere, some extremely ancient. But if I hadn’t had CP explaining the history of various sites in depth, I might not have enjoyed it so much.
The lifetstyle here is generally much more relaxed–beer is a matter of course. Everyone smokes, usually rolling their own cigarettes. The last 2 nights we ate in this amazing Indian restaurant on what is known as the “curry mile.” This will make Mike V. wanna come over here immediately.
My eyes are wide open all the time as there is always another amazing building in a variety of styles including Florentine churches. The people here are all very friendly and I’ve met many characters. There seem to be many accents, and sometimes they’re so thick you can’t understand them at all even though they’re talking in English. Everyone here apparently goes to pubs several times a day :-). Meanwhile nail bombers are in London and all kinds of crazy stuff happening.
My first week was filled with trips to pubs several times a day. In the morning I’d go with him to work (he’s a professor –media & film — at Univ. of Salford. I’d go with him because I could surf the net there for free and take care of e-mail and stuff. Basically CP would work for maybe 15 minutes, then spend an hour or so checking out RMD. Then we’d hit a pub. Then we’d go somewhere else and get lunch (more beer of course), then hit another pub.
CP’s also a great cook and made me several incredible meals, Mexican, Thai and New Orleans so far. I’ve played 2 gigs so far. The first was in this 16th Century Pub, the Pack Horse Tavern which is supposed to be haunted. There was this outside barbecue with the stage on a semi. These motorcycle guys were running the barbecue and instead of using coal, they’d throw on these huge logs. However it got insanely cold. Everyone was huddled by the bbq to keep warm while at the other end of this fairly large yard behind the pub CP’s group, The Satans of Swing were on stage. So they rigged up a sound system and moved my set inside and after I was done, CP started playing and we had this great jam, his fiddler and mandolinist joining in doing all kinds of stuff from the Carter Family to Bob and blues to Wild Mt. Thyme. We played well past closing which for most pubs (not clubs) 11 pm. He has kind of a folk band. He plays a dobro, but plays it like guitar, and he has another guitarist, a fiddler, a mandolinist and sometimes an electric bassist, and a drummer who either plays a snare or a washboard. It’s kind of skiffle except CP is quite capable of pulling out everything from John Wesley Harding and I Ain’t Marching Anymore to American ballads, blues, British and American rock songs, and unaccompanied Irish ballads.
He is as he says (quoting his mother) a voice dancer, and will shift accents constantly from various English accents to Irish, Scottish, and all kinds of American accents as well. A total character. At night if we’re not out playing, he rents videos –he has American VCR, though sometimes Pam likes to watch her TV shows which range from ER to British soaps. These sessions are accompanied by Brandy or wine and smokable inspiration.
The first Saturday there, before the outside gig, we took a train to Liverpool to attend the First Robert Shelton Memorial Dylan Conference at the University of Liverpool. Ben Taylor was there, and a whole lot of academics. It was pretty dumb, but they do take their pop music seriously over there. They had flown in Shelton’s sisters from San Francisco who didn’t seem to have a clue who he was.
Michael Gray (the Dylan author) talked forever about Michael Gray. Some of the afternoon seminars (one on Richard Farina, another on the Byrds) were a little better, and CP’s talk on Free Trade Hall, where he showed the video they recently did with the Judas guy was pretty cool. CP hates academics even though he’s a professor, so he kept it short and sweet. Unfortunately the event was running behind, so they didn’t have a Q&A period, so I was a little disappointed, since most likely I was the only one there who had actually read Robert Shelton when he wrote for the New York Times. And by the time they had a Q&A on Richard Farina, we had to split to do a gig that night, and once again I was probably the only person there who saw Farina play.
Later in the week, I went back to Liverpool by myself. The Institute of Popular Music puts out this thing called “The Beat Map” that has all the Beatles and other rock and roll sites. But it wasn’t a big deal and may have been better if I had someone who knew the city taking me around.
CP has the video of the Dylan Chabad telethon appearances. Hysterical! Dylan, Harry Dean Stanton and Himmelman doing Havah Negilah. A total riot. Himmelman really gets into it. Bob of course is Bob. It’s a real telethon and Bob gives plugs just like any telethon, except it’s all these crazy Jews. On another one Dylan and Kinky Friedman do Kinky’s song, “Sold American” with Kinky on acoustic and Bob trying to play lead on electric, except he doesn’t appear to be playing the same song or even be in the same key. They’re both wearing hats, Kinky a cowboy hat, and Bob sort of a regular hat, then he takes it off and he’s wearing a yarmulke underneath.
I’m finding out all kinds of stuff, like why the British drive on the wrong side of the road. It dates back to the days of carriages when the driver would always sit on the right side of the carriage and it’s so he could draw his sword.
And earlier this week when the tornadoes hit Oklahoma, I’m waking up and CP has BBC news on, and they’re interviewing some American, and they’re like, “So you’ve had a bit of a storm have you? Quite terrible, is it? A bit devastating, perhaps?” I’m standing there listening to this and cracking up totally. And their own weather reports are even funnier, “The weather will be a bit unsettled today.”
Also the English hate the Welsh. In Chester which is even further north of here it is still legal to shoot a Welshman after dark. Apparently the further North you get the more difficult it becomes to understand accents. Manchester isn’t all that far North, but sometimes when these guys get talking to each other, especially the people in some of the more working-class pubs CP took me to, you can’t understand a thing they say. It just sounds like “eh”, “uh”, “ah mate”, and words (especially slang) often have different meanings, like “pissed” here doesn’t mean angry, it means drunk (droonk). Like in the ‘who threw water glass out the window’ scene in Don’t Look Back where the drunk says to Dylan, “I’m pissed man,” and Dylan says “I’m pissed too,” he doesn’t understand the guy is saying he’s drunk. Then they have their own words like bolloxed (which I think is different than bollocks).
When I played the 16th Century pub on Saturday, I go into the bathroom and there’s the guy (kind of a Brit Hells Angel) who was tending this huge barbecue all day and he says, “I’m really bolloxed, hope I don’t have to sleep in the land rover.”
The night after Liverpool, I went to Alan Fraser’s house.
Searching For A Gem with Alan Fraser
I am sitting all alone in the Dylan control studios of one Alan Fraser in the county of Cheshire (I haven’t seen the cat yet) where I intend to spend most of this sunny morning exploring his CD collection which is as astounding as you probably suspect. At least 100 boots. I just finally heard Bob sing Lady Came From Baltimore which is actually quite good.
Alan lives iniles from Manchester and he lives in the suburban part of that. I felt like I could’ve been in New Jersey, like Cherry Hill or something.
You would never think by looking at Alan that he’s this Dylan freak. His wife doesn’t understand the Dylan thing at all. Alan has a habit of saying “yeah” at the end of all his sentences, like Dylan was better acoustic, yeah” and you never know whether or not you’re supposed to answer him. I was a little nervous at first because it was quite different from Chris’ more bohemian existence and I knew that there wasn’t going to be the, um, nightly smoking session.
Shortly after arriving he showed me “the room” saying read whatever you want, play whatever you want. At first it didn’t seem like he had that many CDs until you started looking closer. Then there was the not heard yet pile which was probably a foot high. But then he showed me his son’s room where I stayed, where there were at least 2 more shelves of boots. Then he takes me downstairs were there are more CDs, (the legitimate releases) and other artists, and then he opens up this cabinet and there’s the LPs. The next day he opens up this cabinet above his computer and there were the tapes.
He went to work Friday morning and I woke up alone in the house. I went to the computer room and he left a note telling me his password and how to get to RMD.
It finally started raining today. Alan took me for a ride first to see something close to a castle but it was closed, a bunch of bikers camping out there, so then he set out to take me up into the mountains, tiny windy roads, rain past a bunch of sheep farms, sometimes the sheep get out and wander into the road. The rain doesn’t phase them one bit. He was taking me to the highest bar in England, the Cat & The Fiddle which is on top of a mountain complete with a look-out, but it was closed, and by the time we got there, there wasn’t much of a view, but he said on a clear day you can see all of Manchester. But still it was beautiful. Very strange terrain, no trees, just grass and sheep grazing, not a house in sight. But it was a cool ride nonetheless. Macclesfield used to be an industrial textile town.
Then we came back and he showed me this video of the TV special Dylan didn’t release back in ’77 or whatever which he replaced with the Hard Rain special, from same tour. But this in many respects was a million times better, with Dylan actually human and it would’ve gone over much better if he had let it happen. Further proof that he’s completely out of his mind.
That night he and his neighbour toe to a traditional English Folk Club, (actually f clooob), the Double Partridge in Bollington. They said to bring my guitar. I was a little apprehensive at first, but then the guy running it — who was around 55 and got into folk listening to Pete Seeger — says, “I saw my hero in Manchester last weekend, Bruce Springsteen,” so I started feeling better about things. But then he starts the night singing all these beautiful tunes in fucking Gaelic and everyone’s singing along, so I started getting a little nervous again.
The main act was a musician/comic — totally British humor — but he actually was pretty funny and also was a good guitarist. So I did a guest set between his sets and they really listened and they loved it. They even got “Rockabilly Guy,” and I’ve had audiences here, particularly in folk clubs who didn’t.
On Monday I head far south to Bath by train where I stayed with Matthew Zuckerman.
In Bath with Matthew Zuckerman
I’m in Bath using this Japanese keyboard, it’s in Japanese and it’s making me nuts. Bath is astoundingly beautiful.
Matthew is a few years younger than me, has 2 kids, and a Japanese wife. He’s an American citizen because of his father (who is from Brooklyn and lives in the US) but Matthew has never been here, and he lived in Japan for 25 years. Matthew seemed a bit nervous, maybe because my train was a half hour late, but soon we remembered we had a couple of things in common namely Bob and writing, so the ice was soon broken. His collection of records, cds, and tapes might be one of the largest I’ve ever seen.
had the “Name That Tune” Boot whichDylan at his ’91 worst. Totally unrecognizeable f. Hysterical liner notes too.
Matthew was born and raised in Bath which is an ancient city built by the Romans. All the buildings are made out of the same material (Bathstone). It’s a historically protected city, and nothing can be built that isn’t made out of Bathstone. Tiny streets, great old architecture.
The next day we went to Stone Henge. It’s not as big as it seems in photos, but still amazing. I kept telling Matthew, it was the aliens that did it. Then he took me to this village, Avebury, where there’s similar stones, in a circle around the village, but none on top of each other like Stone Henge. Around Stone Henge and in Avebury there are these mounds in the fields called barrows, which are usually graves. But in Avebury there’s one that’s so big, it’s a man-made hill. It’s 5,000 years old and they’ve sent probes down and there’s no graves. Nobody knows why it’s there! Across a road and a few 100 yards away, there’s something called the long barrow, which instead of being round is long and narrow and runs the equivalent of a couple of city blocks. You can go down into the beginning of it. They knew there’s graves in the first hundred yards or so, but there are none in the rest. Again no one knows why its there.
From Bath (unfortunately, I did not get to see the Baths). The next morning it was time to move on to Cambridge and Craig Jaimeson.
EDLIS and Cambridge
The trip involved 2 trains and a London subway which was quite a hassle since I had a HUGE suitcase (on wheels thankfully) a guitar, a shoulder bag and a camera. Cambridge is also ancient, the one English town the Nazis didn’t touch, and a college town as well. The students aren’t allowed to own cars, so there are literally thousands of bikes. While waiting for Craig to pick me up at the station, I noticed more bicycles parked in front than I’d ever seen in my life. It turns out the students are not allowed to own cars, so there are literally thousands of bikes.
Craig greeted me at the station. He took me to a Turkish restaurant where I ate and he had coffee, and then he dropped me off in town to wander around while he went back to work. He thought it was funny that I took my Martin with me to the restaurant instead of leaving it in his car. Cambridge was again architecturally amazing with more tiny streets. The university buildings were huge gothic structures.
Picking me up a couple of hours later we went to his house in a tiny village maybe 20 or 30 miles from Cambridge. Craig lives in a beautiful house that once was a pub. The village where he lives was incredible. Big old spooky gothic church on a hill maybe 50 yards from his house. Houses with thatched roofs. Quiet. I couldn’t believe it. If I wanted to go somewhere to write a novel, that would be it. Craig has two young and very funny daughters and a lovely wife.
On arrival, Craig started filling me up with wine and we had a great vegetarian dinner. Before dinner he started playing me a very old Bob tape (from Minnesota) that I could hear but could not tape. Craig thought it was from around ’59, but I think it was later than that because his guitar playing particularly seemed more advanced than say the Bonnie Beecher tape. It was all folk songs.
y the tape had some beautiful old bd on it, “Red Rosy Bush”, where Bob sang in kind predecessor to his “Lone Pilgrim” voice — in other words, quite sensitively sung, as well as some song he tried to sing in an Irish accent that got more preposterous with each verse.
The next morning Craig’s wife Shirley drove me into Cambridge. I checked my luggage at the train station and walked around some more this time with a camera. Pretty much covered the same ground as I did the day before and around noon headed back to the train station. The train system there is pretty crazy (not sure if I told you this) but they have various fares for different times of day and for long distance trips you have to book in advance to get a good rate. Still, they’re pretty expensive. The other thing is Thatcher privatized the train system, so now they are all different companies. Anyway a one-way ticket to London cost 13 pounds which is like 25 dollars or something close to that. This weirded me out a little because round-trip from Manchester to Liverpool was only five pounds and Liverpool is probably farther from Manchester than Cambridge is from London. The really crazy thing is they NEVER collected the damn ticket. Anyway on the train I got my first real look at the city. Heathrow is nowhere near the city and on the train from Bath I barely saw anything.
Espen Aas and London
Once in London, I took a cab (which cost more than the train) to Espen Aas’ flat in Catford which is across the Thames in South-east London. Now Espen was the one guy I hadn’t really had any kind of regular correspondence with, as he is more of an RMD lurker than a poster. I think Alan contacted him for me and he was more than glad to help out (“always glad to help an RMD-er in London.”) Well, he turned out to be the greatest guy! He’s 26, is actually Norwegian and has been living in London for the past couple of years. In fact he hosted me his last few days there, as he returned home to Oslo a couple of days after I left. I had no idea what kind of fan he was or what he did for a living, but once again Bob and writing broke the ice.
Anyway as I got there fairly late in the afternoon, I ended up hanging out at his flat and getting to know him, which included a (bus) trip to the store where I copped some real English Marmalade and also English mustard which Alan turned me onto (kicks ass :-), kind of like Chinese mustard.) After another good vegetarian dinner (I’m not, but I don’t mind) and much talk of and listening to Bob, we made the obligatory pub stop.
Being a student, Espen doesn’t have much bread (and England is fairly expensive to live in) his collection was not as vast as the previous ones with more tapes than CDs. But he does have a lot of stuff and once again had a lot of stuff I hadn’t heard or seen including a 3 CD set (can’t remember the name) that had at least one version of every song from Tour ’74. After the pub, we ended up talking late into the night about all kinds of stuff from writing to comparing the US and England to corporations taking over people’s lives.
The next morning it was finally time for me to experience London. They have these things called travel-passes that you can buy by the day, week, or weekend that allow you to ride all London, trains, busses and subways (actually underground, a subway there is a tunnel) as much as you want. So armed with a map CP’s wife Pam gave me (which turned out to be pretty cool ’cause it was one of those street maps that’s sort of illustrated, so you can find where you are really quick) and a London A-Z street guide that Espen gave me I set out, riding a bus, (on the upper deck of course) a train and a subway to Oxford Circus.
I had two items of business to try and take care of. One was to drop some articles off at Mojo Magazine (the best music mag) and the other was to see if I could find a shipping box for my guitar for the trip home.
As part of the conspiracy to make life more difficult, the airlines have decided [in the past year] that guitars are a no no to take with you on the plane. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that airline luggage handlers are not the most gentle guys in the world. On the way over, thanks to a friend who owns a guitar shop, I put my Martin in one of those big rectangular boxes they ship guitars in [it was in its case of course] and packed it tight with newspaper and a lot of the heavy plastic you put on windows in winter. It worked. The guitar arrived safe and sound.
Anyway, the editor wasn’t there at Mojo and that turned out to be a waste of time, though I did leave the articles.
One of the first things I learned in London was that what we would consider an alley, they consider a street. Street signs are always on buildings, they never have separate ones (in the cities anyway) like we do. Another thing in England, streets that would be absolutely one-way in the U.S. are two-ways, narrower and with cars parked on both sides. They also drive much smaller cars there, usually hatchbacks. Only in London did I see big cars and even then not as big as U.S. except for one stretch Limo. The big cars there are Jaguar sedans and the occasional Rolls which is still smaller than a typical American boat. And while I’m on the subject of cars :-), the taxis are something else. They are black and look like something from the ’40s with a huge area between the front seat and the back seat for luggage, and the rear doors are hinged on the back and open from the the other direction like a Lincoln Continental. In addition to this, they are pretty crazy drivers along with the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road. I found out the reason for this at Alan’s. It comes from the days of horse-drawn coaches. The coachman would always sit on the right side of the coach so if another coach came along or a highwayman, he could draw his sword which is always sheathed on the left. So once cars (autos there) came along they kept up the tradition, but somewhere along the line lost the swords. I learned all this from Alan’s neighbor who thinks only Americans drive on the right, but Espen (who’s been to a lot of countries) told me only England and a couple of other countries drive on the left side.
Anyway, back to London… Once I left Mojo, my next destination was Denmark St. in Soho. This is the music street of London and where the famous Albert Grossman negotiating scene in Don’t Look Back took place.
Central London is fairly walkable and one of my favorite things to do is just wander around and find things by bumping into them. On getting out of the subway, I noticed a sign (there are various destination sign markers throughout the city) pointing towards Carnaby Street, so I figured might as well go. It was nothing much, no good clothes (I’m always in the market for Beatle boots or even better suede ones like I had back in ‘65 [same kind Bob wore of course] but no such luck. Carnaby Street was kind of like Greenwich Village is now. Depressing stores with no cool clothes and bad music playing. So needless to say I split there pretty fast and going by instinct started wandering these little streets towards Soho. The trouble was there are lots of these tiny streets and they all look kind of cool, and I wanted to walk down all of ’em. This brought me to my first sad reality: London needed 3 weeks, not 3 days.
I finally came across Denmark Street which had a lot of guitar and instrument stores and Helter Skelter books. Helter Skelter is the company that published CP Lee’s book and they have a store entirely devoted to books on pop music! Well, this resulted in about 90 minutes of browsing. They had a huge Bob section of course and back issues of Isis, but alas no back issues of the Telegraph which is what I was hoping to find. They also had the new Kroksgaard, which was impressive as well as expensive. So considering the exchange rate, I figured I could get it cheaper in the states. So after getting out of there, I checked out all the guitar stores to see what they had in search of the elusive guitar box. My friend here told me to check out London Guitar Center which wasn’t on Denmark Street, but the only thing to close to that name was London Guitar Studio which was all the way back past Oxford Circus where I’d come from. They have a lot of strange guitars in England, and only a couple of stores carried what we would consider good guitars in the States. You’ll see a lot of the newer Epiphones, but hardly any Martins or Gibsons (of course Epiphone is made by Gibson) and surprisingly few Fenders, and none of the newer brands like Taylor. You do see a surprising amount of dobros, steel-bodied Nationals, mandolins, and a lot of imported instruments, African drums and other ethnic stuff.
So after checking out a few more bookstores (there are hundreds of great bookstores in and around Soho and just like the tiny streets, you wanna go in all of ’em, I set out for London Guitar Studio, which turned out to be another waste of time as it was primarily a classical guitar store and they had no boxes. By this time it was dangerously close to rush hour, and one thing about London, there are tons of people on the streets, especially the big streets with department stores. More than anyplace I’d been, London is like NYC in that regard, and to me it seemed, there were even more people on the streets. You have to fight your way through the crowd and at rush hour it’s completely insane. So, it was back to the small streets, stopping here and there to check out stores. Returning to Soho, I went back to Helter Skelter to make sure I hand’t missed anything and resumed wandering. Soon I found myself in a theater district (huge palaces both for movies and legitimate theater), and just going down whatever streets looked interesting I found a great jazz and blues CD store that reminded me of a place I used to work in. No Bob, but extensive great blues section and excellent folk and world music section as well. Returning to Charing Cross, a big street the runs through Soho, I followed it and soon found myself in Trafalgar Square where there were Quakers protesting the Kosovo war.
The anti-war sentiment in England seemed a bit more vehement than here. In Manchester, there were blocks near the universities filled with anti-war posters. I decided to hang out in central London and gave Espen a call telling him not to make dinner and found an Indian restaurant. The general consensus seems to be that English food is terrible and to be avoided, but there are tons of Indian restaurants everywhere (in Manchester, there is actually something called “The Curry Mile” which is close to a mile of Indian and Pakistani restaurants and stores. This was in the theater district where they have closed off a lot of streets and turned them into malls. They are crammed with people. Also while wandering around Soho, I noticed that the pubs would often overflow onto the streets (!) with a big crowd of people hanging out front drinking. So I headed into the crush, and found quite a few street performers (singers, jugglers, all kinds) all with huge crowds around them. A destination sign pointed towards Picadilly Circus which wasn’t much. It’s kind of like Times Square with lots of neon signs. There was a crusty old bagpiper there who was quite a character, but there was also a Tower Records on one corner and a MacDonalds on the other (there are actually several corners, it’s a multi-intersection). I went into the Tower trying to find a fanzine for a friend that had a review of a CD of her band.
Leaving Tower, I headed towards the Thames and found myself in front of a museum, and facing a fairly extensive mall (the park kind, not the shopping kind). I looked to my right and there it was a few blocks away, Buckingham Palace. It wasn’t on my list of top 10 places to see or anything, but I figured, I’m here, so I walked over. By this time it was twilight. It was worth it for the guards. They don’t move! At all! At first I wasn’t sure if they were real. They were behind the gates of course, two of them standing in front of their little guard huts. The palace is huge, and there wasn’t a light to be seen in the place. I stood there taking pictures waiting for the guards to move, but they never did. I wondered what happens if they sneeze, and how they take care of other functions. Later on, Espen told me that at other areas throughout the city, there are places where you can go right up to them, and that people will put their hands right in their faces to see if they blink.
I was starting to get pretty tired at this point having been walking for at least 9 hours and started heading back towards the train, but taking a different route. I tried asking a couple of people if I was going in the right direction, but they all turned out to be foreigners. But my sense of direction is pretty good, so I walked down these deserted streets, and after a few blocks bumped right into Westminster Abbey. By this time it was almost completely dark and starting to rain to boot (I actually lucked out most of the time weather-wise, though in London it can rain at any time and the weather can go through a lot of changes in one day). However the night and the rain made the Abbey which is magnificent as well as huge seem even spookier than it already is. I stared at it for quite a while and then moved on and there it was Big Ben, also seeming quite eerie in the midst, and of course Parliament which is enormous. This also required a good few minutes of staring, this time under an umbrella. I asked a bobby where the Charing Cross train station was and it turned out to be right up the road as Charing Cross goes right into Parliament.
Walking up the street, after about a block I came across about 100 protesters in the rain. Stopping to talk to them, I asked why there were at this location. Pointing to the building behind them, they said, “That is the defense building,” and pointing across the street, they said, “And *that* is 10 Downing Street.” I looked and (behind a gate that Thatcher put up–you used to be able to walk right up to it) down a tiny street in back of huge government buildings you could see what looked like a little brick house. Espen later told me it’s not so little and actually goes way back. It turned out this particular group of protesters were Serbs!
By this time I’d been on my feet for almost 12 hours, so I made it for the train, and then the bus to Espen’s. There were actually 3 busses I could take. I asked the driver to let me know when Davenport Rd in Catford, was coming up and he (a Jamaican) said, “Where’s that mon?” Now I’d made a note of landmarks that morning, and after a while the bus driver stops in what turned out to be the center of Catford, and says to me, “Catford’s back there mon.” So I get off, and I don’t know where the hell I am. It kind of blew my mind that a bus driver wouldn’t know streets he passes several times a day. Not knowing where I was I took the next bus going in the same direction, but soon realized that was wrong, so I got off in the middle of some neighborhood and crossed the street to take the bus back. I figured I’d go all the way back to the Lewisham station and take the same number bus I’d taken in the morning.
It took forever for another bus to come, and I was starting to get nervous as parts of London are not exactly safe. No cabs passed either, or I would have taken one. Finally a bus came and again the driver didn’t know where the street was, but an old gent heard me ask him and came over and gave me a bunch of landmarks to look out for, though I barely understood what he was saying. But it was enough, and very quickly I recognized what I was pretty sure was the right neighborhood and got off. Later Espen told me the stop to ask for was the name of the pub. Figures.
I finally made it back to Espen’s and he showed up a while later. Again we had another long talk into the night, this time accompanied by some German liqueur that was quite tasty. The funny thing is I am not a big drinker. The guys in my band used to get nuts on how I long I would take to drink a beer.
Anyway, Espen and I got into a big Bob discussion, and Espen is one of those guys who knows the exact date of versions he likes. I can’t get that specific except for certain shows I saw that stick out in my mind or certain recordings that drive me nuts, and even then (except for Halloween ’64) I can’t remember the exact date. So we’re talking “Every Grain of Sand” and he’s saying the version he did in Oslo or something is wonderful, and I say, well you have to hear the version he did in Philly at the Electric Factory on the Patti Smith tour ’cause they stuck this Curtis Mayfield type soul lick into it and that that was the best time I ever saw him do the song. And of course along the way, I told him about how I heard the song long before its release ’cause a friend of mine knows Joel Bernstein who’s originally from just outside of Philly, and how I go this cat’s house sometime in the late winter/early spring of 1981, and this guy (Joel) tells me I can hear the song, but not tape it, and it’s “Every Grain of Sand” (dog barking version) and I think it’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard and make him play it about 10 times, and he tells me all about the Hard Rain tour, and how Bob names his guitars after poets and doesn’t change the strings on his guitars and saves his old strings in the envelopes in his case, and how Bob came to do the insane arrangements of ’78 by sending Joel out for the lyrics and drawings book and the 66-76 book and sitting there at the piano and one version would be country, and another would a samba and another would be a blues or something stranger, and how at the end of the day, Bob would listen to all the versions and pick one and that it would be it and sometimes his choices were good and sometimes, well they weren’t so good.
So Espen of course is taking all this in, but there’s no way I can explain this version of “Every Grain of Sand” since obviously I don’t have my tape collection with me. So, I have no choice but to get out the Triple-0 18 and play my approximation of this for him. Well, he just loved that! And that left me no choice but to play him some of my other favorite Bob tunes like “Abandoned Love” and “Except You” and of course some of my own as well. I’d already laid a CD on him as a way of thanking him for his hospitality.
So one I played him was my newest one (written last October — I don’t force songs, I just them come out) called “Wyoming” about the Matthew Shepherd incident. Now I usually don’t write “topical” songs, but this one just flowed right out, in fact right out of the newspaper as someone once said, and came so quickly and so naturally that I knew it was something special. I kind of look upon it as my “Hurricane” in that it just kind of lays out the facts. Well, this song blew Espen’s mind. He was like that is an *excellent* song, and that’s talking about how he has contacts in Oslo and is going to be working in radio and stuff. So that ended up being a great night going well into the wee hours of the morning. I was hoping he’d get his guitar (a nylon string) and play something, but he didn’t. But it kind of totally substantiated my feeling that there’s nothing like a good kitchen to play music in.
The next morning Espen went with me back to central London so I could take some pics of Parliament and the Abbey. Parliament was even more amazing in daylight. It is humongous, dwarfing the capitol, and there’s gold trim around Big Ben and stuff. I didn’t even realize that it is actually connected to Westminster Abbey which was equally stupendous. Then on our way to the train we came upon the Queen’s Royal Horse Guards just in time to see them change! These guys had these hats with white feathers and gold chin bands, and some higher guard comes out and starts barking orders at them in a thick accent. One guy had trouble adjusting his hat right, and the chin band kept slipping up to his mouth. It was a complete insane ceremony where first they lead the horses out and the horses get inspected, and then they get inspected and then they ride to the guard station and the other guards just ride in and then they just sit there totally still on horses. They looked exactly alike, and Espen said they were probably brothers. Once they were done changing, the guard’s eyes would dart back and forth and his hat comes right to his eyes, but no other part of him moved.
Then it was onto the oldest subway line in London (and the subways go deep down underground with these long steep escalators leading to them with signs telling you to stay to the right) for a trip to Camden, a rather run-down section of town. But before we get there, another crazy thing about the English. Instead of having exit signs in the subways and train stations, they have signs saying “way out.” This cracked me right up as the first one I saw was at the Liverpool train station and it was HUGE, running the width of several train platforms.
Now Camden is where the World’s End Cafe is where Bob shot the World Gone Wrong cover and the Blood In My Eyes video. The hoped for gathering didn’t happen, (and if it did, we didn’t show up) but it didn’t matter as Camden is a fascinating place. We did go in the cafe (a rather large pub) and tried to figure out where Bob sat, but as we didn’t have the cover with us, and he probably rearranged things adding his own props, we never did figure it out and we were crazy enough to look everywhere.
Anyway, Camden has this open air-market that goes on floor blocks in and out of buildings and stuff. There are hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of stuff. Clothes, books, antiques, toys, junk and CDs and albums. Well I don’t have to tell you what that means. Bootlegs! We were soon joined by another Dylan fan friend of Espen’s. At some of the stalls, if they see you looking at the Dylan section, they ask if you want to see more. Well, I don’t have to tell you what the answer was. Actually, I didn’t actually buy much Bob. I’d already bought one boot in Liverpool called Tour Diary ’97 ’cause it had the version of “Sooner or Later” I saw in Hershey, PA, and I wanted to get some momentos for some friends back home. So I bought a rare stones boot, and a rare Beatles boot and this Bob LP “Last Thought On Henry Mancini” that has “Moon River” which I had on tape and Van’s “And It Stoned Me” which I didn’t. Mostly I bought it for the cover, a ridiculous picture of Bob in his famous hood. Anyway we spent at least six hours there looking at junk, and looking at the people who were as interesting as the junk, and of course an hour
at a cafe drinking coffee and talking about Dylan. Then Espen’s friend split and he and I went back to wander around Soho some more where I treated him to a Polynesian dinner.
Then we went back home for more Bob and more talk.
The next morning I went back to Central London by myself to check out the Tower of London. I’d ridden past it on the way to Espen’s house (the taxi driver pointed it out) as well as the Tower Bridge which is right next to it which a lot of people mistake for London Bridge. Espen said the Tower is one of his favorite places. Actually there are several towers and several buildings. The place is sort of a combination fort/castle right on the Thames and Kings and Queens at one time lived there. Of course this is a major tourist attraction, and they have guides dressed in Beefeater uniforms who are hysterical (and they know it too). “Let’s go see where people were ’anged.” “They took Guy Fawlkes and sliiiiiiced ’im down thee middle.” Unfortunately the room housing the instruments of torture was closed. You can just wander around, you don’t have to be part of a tour, though it’s fun to hear the guide’s talk. There’s all kinds of stuff in there from the Royal Crown Jewels to Knight’s costumes and various weapons as well as the rooms they locked the prisoners in. You wander up these winding spiral staircases and down ancient hallways. The most interesting thing was the prisoners probably having nothing else to do carved writings into the walls that are still there. Some are just a date and the date they were imprisoned — there were no cells, apparently they’d just throw them in a room, usually an empty room and lock the door — but other writings are manifestos. They also have Ravens there wandering the grounds, and when I saw one, I realized I’d never seen a Raven which basically look like very big crows and are quite vicious.
After the Tower I walked through the streets of London one last time, down Fleet Street where all the newspapers used to be and Reuters still is, past St. Paul’s Cathedral–magnificent and by accident happened upon another place Espen told me about, Covant Garden, which is kind of an upscale shopping place that once was a theater where there are several street performers. There was a guy playing blues on a steel-bodied National accompanied by a harp player, around the corner from him a folksinger, in a kind of sunken courtyard, an amazing string quartet and jugglers and musicians. One kid trying to attract attention to the jugglers was a riot. He was about 15, wearing a blue velvet suit and red tie with Nikes, and he was banging a big hard shell suitcase on the ground loudly while blowing a whistle. “C’mon ladies, sit down and watch the show,” he’d yell whipping a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiping off a bench. Then he’d grab a kid’s baseball hat off the kid’s head and balance it on his nose, return it and bang the suitcase and blow the whistle again.
Then I took one last walk through the streets of Soho and reluctantly took the train back to Espen’s.
That morning Espen got all dressed up to go to Norwegian Independence Day celebration for which he made Norwegian Jam. He invited me to go along, but I just had to much stuff to take with me, and the suitcase was extremely heavy. My flight wasn’t until 4, but the airlines want you there 2 hours in advance on international flights and Heathrow was more than an hour away. And so about an hour after he left a gypsy cab (cheaper than the ’40s style official black ones) came to take me to Heathrow. It was a long ride, mostly through the streets of London until finally hitting a highway. The driver was Jamaican, and on the way we heard this hysterical BBC newscast. The BBC guys are very proper and this guy said something like, “The government has spent 4 million dollars on a report that says COUGH COUGH COUGH, excuse me, that madcow disease was not at all harmful to humans.” The cab driver laughed hysterically. Back at CP’s he’d have BBC news on every morning and it cracked me up: “The weather will be a bit unsettled today.” One morning I heard about the tornado in Oklahoma, and they had a live feed: “Had a bit of a storm have we? A lot of devastation, eh? Many people killed?” I couldn’t believe it.
Anyway I arrived at Heathrow way early which was a good thing ’cause no one was in line. As I walked to the British Airways counter, the person there said, “Going to Philadelphia” which freaked me out. Turned out it was their only flight that afternoon. So getting into my friendliest, most polite mode, I said, “This guitar is extremely valuable and I would really appreciate it if I could possibly take it with me on the plane.” And instead of saying “No” like they would in Philly, she said, “Let me call up to the gate and see what I can do.” And then much to my relief and amazement she said, “Take it with you,” and if you can’t take it on the plane, then it will go in last and they will put it in “fragile hold.” And so, a couple of hours later when I got to the gate they were expecting me and told me to take it with me and talk to the crew. So when they made the first call for people with children or special needs, I figured that was me. Well, even though it’s a small guitar it wouldn’t fit in the overhead, goddamn jumbo jets, they make the overheads smaller and really squeeze you in too. Makes no sense. You’re on a longer overseas flight (Boeing 777) and you have much less leg room than you do on a regular domestic flight on a DC 29 or a 727 or 737, and as you know I ain’t exactly tall. Anyway, then I tried to fit in a closet and it wouldn’t fit in there either, and they wouldn’t let me put it behind the seat and I was in the last seat. But as the plane took off, I saw one of the flight attendants pick up the guitar, and they put it somewhere in first class where of course a Martin belongs.
Despite the lack of legroom, British Airways is a pretty classy way to fly. Good food, 2 bottles of wine, and lots of movies. One very cool thing is on one of the channels you can watch the progress of the flight. They have a map of the earth that they show from several angles, and a little graphic plane that shows you exactly where it is. The also give you the altitude, speed, tailwind, and time and weather at point of origin and destination. The jumbo jets take off FAST, and soon we were over Ireland and then the Atlantic. The plane had a hell of a tailwind which the pilot announced before take-off, 65 mph. Well as the Beatles once said, “turn left at Greenland,” and down through Nova Scotia and over Maine past Boston. I always try to get a window seat and I could see it all though it got cloudy (probably smog) around Boston. The plane started descending from its 40,000 ft altitude after NYC and suddenly there it was in all its gambling glory, Atlantic City in full view. From there maybe 15 minutes up the AC Expressway (by car it takes an hour) and down to Wilmington for a u-turn for the approach into Philly. Those planes probably need that 30 miles to land. Then it was on through customs where agents stand with German shepherds to sniff your luggage. Customs was pretty much a breeze. One guy asked me to open my guitar case, and then says, “A Martin! What kind of stuff do you play?” And then it was out to wait for my friends to pick me up since the plane touched down 45 minutes early. And then it was home to extreme jet lag that lasted a few daze, over 2,000 messages on RMD, and quite a bit of culture shock.
The jet-lag was definitely worse coming home than going there, though maybe the excitement and adrenaline of actually being in England played a part. Coming back you’re going against the jet stream (at least someone told me that, and it makes sense ’cause it’s a seven-hour flight going and eight returning, though in my case returning was 7 hrs, 15 min. ’cause of the tailwind) and that that may play a part. I stayed awake the first night as long as I could, but woke up the next morning at 5:30 am and could not get back to sleep (“I get up in the morning, but it’s too early to wake”) but then I remembered I was still running on England time, and there it would’ve been 10:30 am which would’ve been very late for me to get up. So I got up went out to a diner for breakfast, came home and began hitting the thread button like mad on RMD, somewhat amazed to see that Paul Bullen had hijacked RMD in my absence.
And that my friend is where the story and the trip ends, because it never would’ve happened without RMD.