Monday, August 21, 2017

Ohio Is Everywhere (U.K. Tour diary Part 1)

 Earwig in London!

 I’ve booked several U.S. tours for my band before. It typically involves a lot of phone calls, emails, promotions and a serious time investment. The bulk of the work is usually done months in advance. This was not the case with my recent live dates in England. I decided to fly by the seat of my pants and book the shows online at the last minute. Interestingly, it worked out just fine and was one of my favorite tours. 

When my family decided to take a trip to the U.K., I thought, “What the hell, I’ll set up some shows and do a mini-tour!” James would be there as well and we could travel light, playing the shows as an acoustic duo. Due to some red tape, I did not get my passport until 3 weeks before the trip. I had held off booking any actual dates until I had my documents in hand.

That left less than three weeks to book international club dates and work out full details and promotions. No sweat! Or at least that’s what I told myself. With only ten days on my family’s trip itinerary, I settled on a small tour schedule and went to work.

This is what I started with:

U.K. TOUR Dates: 
London - Saturday, June 24th
Sheffield- Tuesday, June 27th
Perth- Friday, June 30
Leeds - Saturday, July 1st

I knew a band from Sheffield and a few others from London that I had connected with on Twitter. I sent out a flurry of tweets and private messages and waited for the replies. I followed-up with the few responses via email and began to whittle the options down. I was very lucky. Within 24 hours I had booked a gig at The Dublin Castle, a legendary club in the Camden area of London. This was the club where Amy Winehouse used to work behind the bar and all other sorts of cool bands had come up. We had landed this gig on the strength of our songs, which the booker had listened to online. I was elated! I posted my results to Twitter, feeling very proud. One show down and 3 to go!

I woke up the next morning to an email from the booker canceling my performance; he had added us without speaking to the other bands on the bill and they balked at sharing with a performer from out-of-town. My heart sank.

 I redoubled my efforts and spent the next week making friends online and reaching out to bands on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve helped tons of touring bands hook-up and get gigs in Ohio. I was certain that an English band would do the same for me. It’s not that they didn’t try, but the band I knew in Sheffield was out of town.

 Then, I got another bite from a smaller club in Soho, London. The promoter also ran sound at St. Moritz Club and he decided to give us a shot. This was cool! St. Moritz is a small club but has a great reputation. Rumor has it that U2 played one of their first un-documented London gigs there, so did Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, The Kinks, OMD, and Joe Strummer.

The street entrance for St. Moritz club.

 A few days later, I connected with a musician from Perth, Scotland. He liked the music, but said that his band never really played out live. He recommended a local club called The Green Room.

 It took me a few days to get a response from the booker there; he was waiting to hear back from the promoter for bands that were already booked there that Friday night. When he heard we were from Ohio, the tour manager for the American and Belgian bands agreed to let us on the bill! Score, that’s TWO SHOWS!

I also had a tentative show in Leeds through a band I met online. From our emails that gig seemed solid. I decided to forget about booking a show in Sheffield. For my first trip over-seas, three shows was pretty good in my book. By the time we left for the U.K. I had booked a micro-tour online, with minimal effort or investment, and got about half of the gigs I was hoping for.

After an 8 hour flight to London, our first 24 hours in England would be non-stop. We landed at Heathrow at 6am, rented a car and drove south to see the white cliffs of Dover. The Pretenders were playing on the radio in the cafe where we had breakfast. The first song I heard in England was sung by an Ohio native! Thanks, Chrissie Hynde.

 That afternoon, we drove back to London and explored Soho, eventually locating the small club. St. Moritz is a basement venue known for their fantastic live music. 

 Once inside, the booker told us that this place was a favorite of Lemmy from Motorhead who used to hang out there and pour everyone pints from behind the bar. It’s an all underground venue with two rooms, one room has a bar, the other a stage reminiscent of Bernie’s Bagels in Columbus.

 When we arrived the first band was sound-checking and when they were done I chatted with the singer/bass player. Turns out she had just been in Ohio where she has family in Dayton! Another Ohio connection. The guitarist was also from Ohio, but, interestingly, the two had only ever crossed paths in England.

 This tour had been booked so quickly that there wasn’t much done in the way of promotion, though I had a recent U.K. review and a promotional write-up for this gig on an English website. So we were not expecting a lot of people to show up for our set but by 9:00 pm there was a small crowd growing in the bar. It was getting late and there were 3 full bands after us, so, once we got set up, we took a 5 minute break and then started right into our set. I was feeling frazzled. The previous 24 hours of travel had me out sorts. We played well, our set was 35 minutes, the monitors were loud, and James did a great job singing. However, the stage was dark and that made it very hard to see my guitar and what I was actually playing.

Lizard and James on stage at St. Moritz.

  Our crowd consisted of roughly 25 people, of which about half were in the other bands. We had one person come specifically to see us play! For a show almost 4,000 miles from home, we thought that was reasonably impressive.

After our set, I mingled and talked with everyone. They were all pleasantly surprised by our sound and liked the songs. Two people wanted CDs. When someone heard I was from Ohio they had to ask was I for “Bengals or Browns?” I told him that I was team Bigfoot. I laughed…I don’t think he actually knew what it meant, just that it had something to do with Ohio. 

Riding the underground at Piccadilly Circus

  With our first London gig officially in the books, we went out to celebrate the success of our very first U.K. gig! In Soho it’s a wild party all night long with people spilling out into the streets, dancing, singing and drinking into the wee morning hours. We had a pint at a pub across the street from famous Brew Dog pub (which was too full to get a seat in) and capped our night with a walk to Piccadilly Circus. London was alive deep into the night and teeming with locals and tourists. After soaking in the atmosphere, we caught a late train on the underground. We were ready to head back to our beds for our first sleep in London. 

Taking the tube home and outside the Brew Dog pub in Soho.

 Interesting side-note: Brew Dog is one of the most popular U.K. breweries. When they recently expanded to America where did they choose to open their U.S. headquarters and first pub and brewery? In Ohio. 

(continued in Part 2)

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