September 5, 2013
Past experience clouded our predictions here, and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s description of the place seemed to ring true. This time, Inglan was different. Anchored by shows in London and the Shambala Music Festival in Market Harborough, we were treated to a real welcome.
People around the world try to outdo each other in their hospitality. A smile, some hot coffee, a clean place to rest. These things make us feel welcome, and we find them almost everywhere we go. Good food is the next level of amazing, but sometimes hospitality transcends these comforts.
I don’t know how Doctor Robinson came to be wearing the official hat of the Director of the Department of Awesome. It seemed to match Jason’s exuberant, colorful spirit and that of the festival itself. Still, a furrow of concern crossed the brow of our host when he asked to borrow it for the show. She hesitated until a chorus of support went up from the band, and she agreed to let the Doctor wear it.
The band had a great show that night. We’d finally done what we’d wanted to do here in England, both musically and as a working team. Relaxing afterward, we’d almost forgotten the hat, but when Jason returned it he heard the story. It had originally been worn by a young man who loved the Shambala Festival and attended every year until his death. His friends wore it in his memory, and although Jason never knew him, I hope they too thought it was right for a musician like him to offer his joyful, living music to Vito’s friends. Peace! The charm’s wound up.
Dingwalls sits at the heart of Camden, the legendary London neighborhood where the ghosts of Sid Vicious and Amy Winehouse still window shop the tattoo parlors. I mourned them, wandering, attuned to lingering traces, but Camden can make you crazy, so after an hour I headed out for the open space and quiet of Regent’s Park.
England is filled with quiet little hideaways: churchyards, woods, and countrysides largely free of fences and barbed wire. Unfortunately, our hotel was miles from town. I set off navigating the edge of the highway, the words “they’re driving on the wrong side!” screaming through my mind as the trucks blew past. But at an overpass by an industrial yard I saw a little gravel path following a murky canal. Turns out you can follow these canals for miles, and they are incredibly beautiful in the late afternoon light, with ducks and swans, fishermen and strolling families. Revel in the easy consonance of man and the world.
Speaking of which, I should clarify the job description for musicians I posted a couple of weeks ago. For most musicians, the career arc can be punishing during the first five years or more. First, the practicing: People usually sound so bad during their first months they end up sequestered off in an outbuilding so as not to piss off neighbors and family. In jazz circles this is known as going to “the woodshed”. Practicing, especially of the most fundamental and repetitive kind, is known as “woodshedding” or “’shedding”.
Once this stage is well underway one can begin “paying dues”, a slightly old-fashioned term considering the vanishing of unions and their jargon, but it is a very real part of most musical careers. It consists of networking, learning business and professional skills and plenty of straight hustling, working towards more challenging music and better-paying gigs.
You’re mostly done paying dues when you’re making enough money to support yourself and your family. Your reputation is established, you’ve got some recordings under your name, possibly some famous artists you’ve played with. When you get to this point you can take jobs even when the money is not good if you like the music, and you can you can afford to turn down good-paying gigs on the chicken dance circuit*.
Only a tiny percentage of musicians make it beyond this point, so I’m not even going to talk about them. The majority of successful musicians I know earn about as much as a part-time plumber, but spend less time underneath peoples’ toilets. The money? Well, you just don’t do it for the money. Nonetheless, its a real job, and it provides a comfortable living and lots of benefits.
So, in thirty-five years we’ve managed to claw our way up to that penultimate tie. The things is, there is not one among us who is not grateful to be here, no one regrets the years they put into woodshedding and paying dues. A Groundation tour doesn’t go by without us looking at one another and asking: “Is this real? Are we the luckiest people in the world?”
It’s allmost time to say goodbye to Europe for 2013. East Coast of the USA, you’re next!
*The chicken dance circuit=wedding bands