Monday, 26 July 2010


Here's a detailed account of my first trip to Boston in 1999! Firstly, a brief background to my love for Boston rock and the premise for this trip to immerse myself in the New England rock culture. Back in the late 80s, when I was starting to develop a specific musical taste of my own, rather than eat whatever the UK ’s main music paper, the NME, fed me, I stumbled across an interesting review of an album called “Craps” by the Big Dipper. My curiosity thus piqued, I bought all 3 available Dipper records on the same day, and on actually hearing them I was blown away. This was the band I’d been looking for to shape my destiny. Huge guitars, great songs, wonderful attention-grabbing choruses and harmonies, energy, drive, effervescence, humour; this band had the lot. I saw them “live” in London the following year, a night that left my ears ringing for days, and started an occasional correspondence with guitarist Gary Waleik, which continues to this day.

Through the Dipper, I encountered the wonderfully harmonic Gigolo Aunts (I picked up on the Dipper reference in their song “Walk Among Us”; the lyric “preferring it to land” is lifted from the Dipper’s “Wet Weekend”), and formed a friendship with them when they toured the UK in 1993/94. The Aunts, and Phil Hurley (late of this parish) in particular, recommended a slew of other bands to me, amongst them the excellent Letters To Cleo. Through the Cleos, and particularly an interview discussion of their song “Acid Jed”, when they played a couple of dates in the UK in 1996, I encountered the Gravel Pit. Steve Hurley then got Ed Valauskas to e-mail me directly, some 18 months ago, when I was pestering Steve to help me locate some Pit stuff.

Now, the Gravel Pit are something special. “Silver Gorilla” ranks as one of the most exciting records I’ve heard in a very long time. The songcraft is outstanding; Jed Parish is evidently both a craftsman and a genius, and the band are prime and dynamic rockers of the highest calibre. I had to see them “live”, so, expecting a decent work bonus this year I sorted flights out, and EdV generously opened his door to this crazy Brit. So, now we're flying...

1. Wednesday 4 August

The plane eventually gets into the air just before 10 to 7 in the evening, after an afternoon of waiting around Heathrow terminal 4 for nearly 3 hours. Not that it was late or anything, I just had to book in 2 hours before departure, so I made sure of hitting that time. I’ve never been on a longhaul flight before, but I’m surprised at how smooth it all is. The only turbulence we hit is over the Bristol Channel , oddly enough, as we hit an incoming weather pattern on our way up to the flight altitude. After that it’s plain sailing, as it were. Smooth as a baby’s bottom.

The in-flight “entertainment” sucks royally, however. Crap old films, crap new films and crap episodes of “Friends”, which I could act myself. Spend most of the flight listening to tapes and watching the radar, showing the position of the plane in flight. This is pretty cool. Force myself to stay awake, so as not to let the time difference (5 hours behind GMT) disorient me too much.

Land way ahead of schedule, and meet up with Ed Valauskas at 9 at the airport. Ed is a laid-back, amiable chap with a just-woken-up expression, who I warm to immediately. We pile into Ed’s car, borrowed for the night from his roommate Josh Lattanzi, and head straight out to South Boston (me craning my head out of the window all the time to look at the skyscrapers) to pick up his pal James Horrigan from the apartment in Tremont Street he shares with Pete Caldes and Pete Stone. A cool, brick-lined 2nd floor terrace (sorry, brownstone) apartment strewn with CDs, papers and magazines, mainly of the “rock” persuasion, and dominated by a huge framed “Beatles” poster. James and Pete both initially strike me as being totally crazy, with James in particular being extrovert and entertainingly verbose, an impression which, I was to learn, wasn’t too far wide of the mark. Back at the car, Pete challenges us all to lift ourselves horizontally from the ground supported by a street signpost; I fail hopelessly, and Ed strains his shoulder in the attempt!

Dump my stuff at Ed’s place in Elm Street – a funky and rambling 1st floor apartment in a leafy, cosmopolitan and elegantly run-down area of Cambridge . Ed’s room is a total mess; and he claims to have just tidied it!

Hit the Burren at 10.30. My first night in Boston and I’m in an Irish bar! Arina and Katie are onstage playing stripped back bar-room blues, which is not my cup of tea, so I chug into some beer, mainly for the sedative effect as I’m so awake it’s frightening. The Burren actually reminds me of the “Fleece and Firkin”, so I feel at very much at home, despite being “carded” for ID of my age on the way in (this I later find out is normal for Boston bars and clubs, so I take to carrying around my passport). Conversation revolves around Boston bands. James, who later signs my gig book as the quintessential “ageing scenester”, which just about sums him up, is incredulous that I know so much about Boston rock, after I mention that I knew the Sheila Divine won the “Rumble” last year (the local radio station WBCN’s version of “Battle of the Bands”). With his obsession for facts already starting to show, I start to get the impression that James might be the Boston equivalent of, erm, me. Meet Ed’s girlfriend Carrie and her friend Kate. Both very friendly and chatty. Pete is in high spirits and keeps trying to chat Carrie up. I hope he’s joking about.

Meet the Colonel, the “Pope of Pop”, Mr. Connecticut Jed Parish himself. Taller but less thick-set than I expected, he reminds me very strongly visually of my friend Clive. I immediately feel at ease with him, despite my admiration of his talent. This talent is evident in his acoustic set of the evening. Jed includes the Gravel Pit’s “Drink You Up” (including a verse from “Cool Water”, which brings back teenage memories of mother playing Frankie Laine and me scuttling for my room) and “The Judas Lament” in his set, the hookline of which (“I sold my soul for thirty bits of silver!”) I sing along to raucously, prompting strange stares at the crazy Brit from my Boston companions. How much beer?!? I take a photo of Jed (which unfortunately is too dark to come out) and he flicks me the finger, then remembers I’m British and makes it 2. Jed’s set is actually great, and prompts a re-appraisal of his solo album, which I was initially disappointed with. The man can bloody well sing, no messing.

Jake Zavracky, the singer of Quick Fix (this name comes up later) and a very tall man, who has to stoop a great deal when Ed introduces him to me, then does a short but sweet solo set, then Jed joins Arina and Katie for a couple of final numbers.

Hit the hay in Ed’s room at 2 a.m. (that’s 7 in the morning in UK money), as Ed is staying at Carrie’s. Despite being awake for 24 hours, I can’t sleep, which isn’t helped by Ed’s sub-letting roommate Toirm watching TV at 3 a.m. I’m in Boston now, and the fun is only beginning…

2. Thursday 5 August

Wake up at fucking 6 a.m. Bah! Doze until the doorbell rings at 8. It’s Josh Lattanzi – the car-owning roommate of Ed, who is off on tour with Mike Viola and the Candy Butchers, opening for the Barenaked Ladies across the States. Josh is the sweetest guy, is happy to pose for a photo at 8 in the morning, and barely bats an eyelid when I mention I’m going to take over his room while he’s gone.

He leaves at 8.30 and I pop to the Convenience store around the corner on Broadway for milk and breakfast cereal. The fully skimmed milk still tastes totally sugary. Have another bowl to reinforce my opinion.

Dave Wanamaker – the final roommate – shows up. He’s off to Los Angeles for a couple of days to meet record company executives about his band, Expanding Man. His band name suits Dave entirely, as he is very tall and broad, and with the bald head is very imposing looking. Very gregarious, though, and we get into a very philosophical discussion about music, and he’s pretty impressed by my “gig book” (he’s not the last to be so on this trip!).

Dave leaves and I call Jed Parish. Arrange to meet up for lunch and record shopping. Wander down Norfolk Street , which connects Broadway to Cambridge ’s “main drag”, Massachusetts Avenue . Norfolk is another rambling suburban avenue similar to Elm Street . No two houses look the same and the majority seem wooden of construction, with steps up to the front door. How people get pushchairs in and out is beyond me.

Meet Jed for lunch at the Middle East on Mass Ave , an evocative diner attached to the rock venue. Jed orders vegetarian and I play safe with chicken, as we swop life stories, philosophies and experiences. Jed is very open and easy to talk to; the comparisons with Clive increase! I pay for lunch as a “thank you” to my unofficial guide.

A 4 hour record shopping trip ensues; we hit the record shops up Mass Ave; me with my very specific skinny white boy guitar rock agenda, and Jed investigating punk, new wave, old blues and Shakespeare spoken word records with equal enthusiasm.

In one shop, Jed asks which blues album he should buy as he can’t afford both, and it strikes me that his indications of his lack of affluence over lunch weren’t exaggerated. I stand amazed and humbled that the creative force behind one of the most exciting rock bands around at the moment can’t afford to buy 2 blues albums. I restrain myself from offering to buy the other one for him, but I’m suddenly glad I bought lunch. Shopping with Jed has proven both an educational and a humbling experience.

We part at the crowded and touristy Harvard Square , following a thunderstorm, which caused us to scuttle into a movie memorabilia shop halfway up Mass Ave. I shop some more around Harvard, then cry “enough” in Planet Records, after a CD of Dumptruck’s “For the Country” from my wishlist is located and I suddenly realise I’ve spent over $150. Walk back to Ed’s.

(I later find out that Pete Caldes had been prowling up Mass Ave looking for us, after he’d told Ed, “where’s the Brit?? I’ve gotta hang out with the Brit!!”)

Move my stuff into Josh’s room (a good deal tidier and more sparse than Ed’s which is a good thing, because for me, travelling light is something which happens to other people), then chill out before heading off at 8.30 to TT The Bear’s Place, just off Mass Ave, for the Gravy show. Have to go back to Ed’s for my passport, having been “carded” on the door (I’m 34, for fucks sake, and I’m not even drinking!!), so finally get into the small venue at 9.

Meet Michael from the Gravy and chat endlessly during the first band Red Planet, who peddle a standard rock fare despite the vocalist’s cool leather trousers. Michael introduces me to the hyper energetic Todd Spahr, Gravy vocalist and former Cavedog. We check out the second band, Pistola, who are much better, an odd looking 3 piece with good tunes and a dual vocal attack reminiscent of the Jam. Federal Twist, 3rd on, looked quite eclectic, with a large black bass player wearing a zoot suit, suggesting an element of swing or even ska in their music. However they played a disappointing sub-US rock radio mishmash, with slight plodding Radiohead overtones.

I bump into Ed at the bar. Ed is staying at Carrie’s again tonight, as she’s going to be out of town for the next few days. However, I’m down the front for The Gravy, on at 11.45. They rock a lot harder than their quirky but slightly muddy pop CD suggests, with Todd in particular a very dynamic and energetic frontman, reminding me of early Julian Cope. The punchier sound is no doubt aided by guesting drummer Tom Polce, formerly a Cleo and now a Senor Happy, who bangs a mean drum and contributes to the more hard rocking show. A superb set, despite my unfamiliarity with their new material, with oldie “Memory” my best memory of it!

Converse with Tom Polce outside the venue after the show – an entertainingly odd conversation in which Tom replies “awesome” to pretty much everything I say! – then risk the spooky walk through Norfolk Street which despite my slight trepidation is actually no problem. Hit the hay just about 2 a.m. after a quick chat with Toirm the sub-letter, who is getting his stomach checked tomorrow and has been on Peach Juice all day.

3. Friday 6 August

Sleep better, and notice Ed on the front steps at 8 a.m. Let him in, then we both head off to Q Division after breakfast, via Lucky’s place in Allston. Catch the “T” – the Boston rapid transit system, which isn’t half as imposing as I expected - for the first time.

Over to Q Division at 11.30. Q is the record label and recording studio responsible for unleashing the Gravel Pit and others upon an unsuspecting world, and also responsible for providing mine host with gainful employment. It’s situated on the 3rd floor of a huge unused building to the South of Boston, and overlooking the main Turnpike flyover, which renders the environs very noisy and dusty. Q itself is partitioned off from the rest of the empty building (which has the feel of an empty multi storey car park), and is a comfortable “lived-in” network of rooms dominated by the recording studio and production room.

I’m here for a reason today, thanks to Ed’s tip-off; Buffalo Tom are in, recording an instrumental version of a new song which I believe is called “Everything I Do Is Wrong”, for a possible TV Sitcom theme tune. I later find out the song is called “Right or Wrong” and was the theme for the Michael O’Malley show, but was only aired once, as the show got cancelled after one episode! I hang around with Ed on the floor outside Q (Ed’s not allowed to smoke inside the Q offices, so tends to spend a lot of time outside) until the Tom show up. Ed introduces me to Bill Janovitz, and I shake his hand. Mention to Ed, after Bill disappears into the studio, that this is the exact time I turn into an incredulous gibbering fanboy.

Chat with the Tom before they go to work, about my trip, the band, and how they are perceived in the UK . They’re all very open, and all sign the Tom Astoria set-list in my gig book, which I’d handily brought along, and make a point of looking through and complimenting the book. My eyes widen so much I think they’re going to pop out of my head.

Sit in on the Tom’s recording session after hitting a local cafĂ© mid-afternoon with Ed, Pete and a visiting Mike Gent of the Figgs, for a Buritto (as heavy as a housebrick but damned delicious). John Lupfer, Ed’s boss at Q, produces the Tom, and makes them record the thing a number of times. Find out later that John was as excited about working with the Tom as I was about meeting them. I do a pretty good “fly on the wall” impression, but Bill insists I’m welcome to sit in for as long as I want (when he said “Get the fuck out of here” to my question, he was only kidding. Honest). However after a couple of hours and debrief sessions, I start to feel conspicuously superfluous, so gratefully accept a lift back from Q assistant Colin to the “T”.

Ed’s rehearing with the Pit, so I call Gary Waleik. He instantly recognises my name (a good sign), and we tentatively arrange to arrange to meet up. Judy Collins, Baby Ray’s manager, finally catches up with me, so I head on over to Carberrys, a bakery round the corner, to meet up. She shows up ½ hour late; a slim woman with a shock of curly black hair and an intense stare. We chat about Boston rock during the “entertainment” in the bakery garden (a Jazz improv group and a showing of “The Man With X-Ray Eyes”). Judy is very enthusiastic for me to meet people (she mentions a couple of DJs and Mikey Dee, who edits Boston fanzine “The Noise”) which sounds fun and all, but I get the feeling she wants to parade me around a little. This is confirmed when she introduces me to a friend of hers (one of the improv musicians called Vic who resembles Bill Janovitz), as a guy from England who Baby Ray are taking to New York . I make the point of saying I’m in town to see the Gravel Pit.

(Ed later says that yes, those would be fun things to do, and yes, she is parading me.)

We’re then caught in an amazing thunderstorm which blows the barrier by the garden over, so wait out the storm at Judy’s apartment, with Vic and Joanne, a designer friend of Vic’s. Judy’s place is a designer heaven, sparse of furniture but heavy in CDs and original artwork, and featuring a cool old dansette. Judy loads me up with a dozen free CDs, and when the storm subsides I claim tiredness and head back to Ed’s for 11ish.

4. Saturday 7 August

Which will hereafter be known as Pit Day. Up about 10. Mike Gent crashed on the sofa last night. Mike is in town from NYC for the “Gentlemen” show on Tuesday. Mike is a painfully thin guy with a more bohemian attitude to his chosen vocation, i.e. he’s poor and doesn’t give a shit! Ed tells me later he’s got a pretty cool apartment in Queens , NYC, so he must be doing something right.

Eventually stumble out, after Mike has played me an extraordinary self-congratulatory video about Mike Viola, a former musical “child prodigy” who appeared as a pre-teen on shows such as “Letterman”, and amazingly the guy that Josh is currently out on tour with. Mike retorts he’s going to form a band called Mike Gent and the Ego Butchers. Drive out to South Boston where Ed is due to meet Terri, a friend who’s just got into town from Colorado . Mike and myself head up to the Tremont apartment to meet Pete and James. Pass Pete Stone on the stairs and totally fail to recognise him. He’s much taller, younger, thinner and more handsome than I was expecting from his photograph (must’ve been a bad one!), but he recognises me as I follow him down to introduce myself. Must be the accent.

Head over to a local diner for breakfast at 1-ish with Ed and Terri. Eat the largest omelette I’ve ever seen, along with “grits”, a Southern so-called delicacy which has a weird watery texture and a bland taste. Ed mentions that Pete Caldes horrified the locals during their Southern US tour recently by piling syrup on his grits. Pete and Mike turn up, and Pete announces that I should put syrup on my grits.

Call Gary Waleik from Tremont; he’s asleep having started his shift at 4.30 this morning! Head out to Forest Hills early afternoon, on the outskirts of Boston , on the “T”. Jed’s playing a solo show at Hi Fi Records, which James informs me looks exactly how he imagines Championship Vinyl (the record store owned by the main character in Nick Hornby’s book “High Fidelity”) to look. Sit opposite a pretty 5ish year old blonde girl on the “T” who is playing happily until her father, a grizzled old Craig Stadler lookalike who on first glance I’d assumed to be her granddad, starts pulling her around bodily and drawling “I’m going to take you home now”. A weird scenario. Apart from that I’ve not encountered any problems on the “T”, and I can always go into weird Brit guy mode myself, if someone starts freaking me out.

Eventually find Hi Fi in Jamaica Plain, following an encounter with a distinctly unhelpful bus driver (“How many stops is it to Center Street ?”; “Never counted”). James is right! I bury myself in the racks and come up for air having spent another $80, enough to warrant a free t-shirt. Weird out some shopper, as I find a vinyl copy of “Positively Dumptruck” and pull it out of the racks and kiss it.

Pick up a Willard Grant Conspiracy CD, and Debbie, the clerk, points out that Robert from WGC was in the shop a second ago. Robert returns for Jed’s show and I introduce myself. A large, amiable chap, with whom I enjoy a good chat about how to break into the UK music scene, as WGC have toured recently in the UK . I mention I’d also read some UK press which indicated that WGC sound like Grant Lee Buffalo. Robert’s view is that they’re more like Sparklehorse. I try not to start frothing at the mouth at the prospect. Fortunately Jed arrives.

Jed sets up in the corner of the shop, pulls out an acoustic guitar and following a short intro from the clerk, plays a vibrant set for about an hour. I’m even more lost in admiration of this guy’s talent; the selections tax his voice a lot (particularly the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” and Debbie’s request of the Gravel Pit’s “Wicked Witch”) but he doesn’t blow a single note. A couple of Pit numbers are thrown in and mix well with his solo, more rootsy, bluesy stuff. Jed is obviously at ease with the intimacy of the occasion, and his mother walking in midway through his set obviously helps this.

Shake the Colonel’s hand following his set, and depart for the “T” via a huge Dunkin’ Donuts, in which I experience iced tea for the first time. Sweet and bland at the same time. A weird taste which I’m not sure I like or not. “T” packed but again no problem.

Back to Ed’s at 7; call Steve Hurley, who’s just got off the plane from Spain , and arrange a lift with his sister to see the Gigolo Aunts in Vermont tomorrow. Also arrange a Wednesday meeting with Gary Waleik. Everything’s falling into place.

Decide to follow Pete Caldes’ advice, and wear the red velvet shirt to the Pit show tonight. I’m going to roast. Pete Stone brings some beer over, and we chill out awhile before hitting the Middle East for 10. I go straight in as I want to catch Heidi’s opening set. Heidi are a noisy shouty Offspring post-grunge punk mess, with a ¾ girl line-up being the only distinguishing factor. Fun to watch but I couldn’t eat a whole one. Ed had mentioned the Colonel had recommended them, and in an untypical burst of cynicism said that the Colonel is probably looking to get laid. Hmm.

A great double take is performed by Shayne Phillips, the former drummer for Tracy Bonham’s band, who I met in the UK in 1996 and who I tap on the shoulder tonight as he passes by. A second or so passes before the penny drops and he recognises me, with an incredulous look. Good to see him again! He’s now drumming for Quick Fix (that band name again!). Also meet Sterling and e-mail corespondent Mike Paolo, a really cool and friendly guy, and fellow Sterling Pat Emsweiler, who is comically drunk. Chat with them during the Shods set, who remind me of Rocket From The Crypt with their 50’s rocka-bully postures and Clash-ing guitars.

(I subsequently find out that Drew, Tracy Bonham’s bass player from that trip, is now in BMX Girl, Ed’s roommate and former Sky Hero Jamie’s new band. Jamie is sub-letting his room to Toirm as he and the band are in Maui , spending their huge advance recording their debut record for 6 months. Talk about falling on your feet!)

Down the front for the Pit, with Sterlings Pete, Mike and Pat. Amazed at the room I have, despite the crowded venue. James later tells me no-one dances in Boston.

The Pit arrive at midnight, and from the opening bars of “Bolt of Light” it’s plain I’m witnessing greatness. They rip into the set with the ferocity of tinder wolves. Second number, “Abimelech DuMont” is even more dynamic, strident and forceful than on record (and I thought it was one of the most dynamic, strident and forceful records I’ve ever heard!). I become the no-one that dances in Boston , and just go for it. I have no choice in this matter; the rock compels me to dance.

The Pit are simply jaw-droppingly awesome live. A more dynamic and exciting rock music set I believe I’ve not seen for years. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much movement onstage; Ed with the Chuck Berry duckwalk, Jed in perpetual motion, alternating between keyboards and authoritative vocals, Lucky ducking and diving as if avoiding machine-gun fire, Pete all octopus arms. It’s an incredible visual spectacle, to augment the titanic rock noise these guys are blasting out.

It gets more incredible. 2 numbers to go, Jed turns to Ed and asks “are we going to do something with the English guy now?” I have enough time to pass my camera to Pete Stone, before being invited onstage and introduced. Jed thrusts a pair of maracas into my hand and says “and now the English guy is going to dance for us”. What can I say? I just totally rock out ONSTAGE to the last 2 numbers, bumping into Lucky on occasion but doing well to avoid tripping over the guitar lead. For set closer “I Climb (Up His Tree)” I really go for it; jumps, high kicks, the lot; I chuck it all in, and even get to sing a line from the song, “just look what he’s done, look what he’s done”!

Hit the aftershow party at Tremont afterwards, sweaty and totally high on the night and on my first onstage rock experience. Chat to loads of people who are generally impressed by the cool reserved Brit rocking out onstage. Get bearhugs from Ed and am told by many that I caught the Pit on a very good night. I’m glad they turned it on for me! Get to meet the big man from Senor Happy, Joe McMahon, and remember hazily chatting to a Heidi. Hmmm. Get progressively drunk as I use cans of Bud as a sedative, and keep fielding the same questions about why I’m in town and what part of London I’m from (!). Find myself increasingly using the same “Italian Man” vocal inflection as the guys from the Pit, particularly Pete Caldes, use. Eventually run out of steam, and hitch a ride back to Ed’s with Toirm and his sassy lady friend. Hit the hay at 5 a.m. Pass out after one of the most extraordinary days I’ve spent on this planet.

5. Sunday 8 August

Wake at 8. Ow shit my fucking head! Forgot that I hate hangovers, and get upset. Doze off uncomfortably again until 12, then scrabble around trying to get the day started. Ed is on the sofa as Terri had his bed. The shower doesn’t help but decide that maybe food might. It’s my friend, it normally serves me well. Hit Brookline Lunch on Mass Ave for breakfast; have to wait but the wait is worth it when it arrives. Briefly check out the Caribbean street carnival on Mass Ave , looking for small wooden ethnic toys for Evan and coming out with a pair of sunglasses. How’d that happen? Time’s running short, and my head hurts way too much for loud reggae, so move swiftly on (or at least as swiftly as my alcohol-battered form will allow).

Carol Hurley picks me up from Ed’s at 2. A confident ginger haired woman resembling her little brother Steve. Head off North to Vermont . The journey is long but easy as Carol is very gregarious, and the conversation deviates considerably from the initial rock music subject as I slowly but surely start feeling human again. We zoom up to Woodstock (yes, the real one) in short order – Carol is a serious lady leadfoot – then hit the “real” Vermont through the mountainous sideroads. Listen into WEBK, the radio station sponsoring the “Mountain Jam” event we’re heading for, but they’re no help. Pass through lots of deliberately “quaint” Vermont tourist trap towns, and discuss the fakeness of it all.

Arrive at Pico, where the “WEBK Mountain Jam” is being held. It’s a small festival in the grounds of a huge (at least 4 floors) ski chalet, at the foot of a hugely imposing ski slope, which looks awesome without snow. The festival itself is in its closing stages, and the thousand or so brave souls, that have stuck it out in the cold and wet, look totally fed up. Many are sat of foldaway chairs wrapped in blankets, and my decision to wear shorts looks foolhardy.

Meet up with the Gigolo Aunts, and grab an “All Access” pass. Cool! Roam around the backstage area with impunity before the Aunts sort out minor technical difficulties and hit the stage at ¼ to 6. Their set is full of their trademarks; optimism, charm, superb harmonies and great melodies, and that wonderful middle eight during “Everything is Wrong”, and despite the poor sound, they project very well. Dave then asks whether there are any requests, and they subsequently drag a vociferous heckler onstage to sing “ Sweet Home Alabama ” to a rapturous reception. Odd, these mountain folk. This actually turns out to be a good move as the rest of the set is met with an enthusiastic response, particularly “Where I Find My Heaven” which is great.

Wander around the site and pick up an event shirt immediately afterwards, and totally forget to pick up the Aunts set-list. Wow. Sieve-head. I think this was the Aunts set;

“Half A Chance”, “Everything Is Wrong”, “The Big Lie”, “Everyone Can Fly”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Where I Find My Heaven”, “Rest Assured”, “Super Ultra Wicked Mega Love”

Head through backstage again, and a chipmunk scoots across my path as I wander to the chalet. I suddenly realise I’m totally in the back of beyond here.

The Aunts have a designated room on the 4th floor of the chalet, so we hang there, chat and chill out while the Aunts get slightly tanned (we’re up in the mountains and there’s no sun; it’s not that type of “tanned”, OK?), totally ignoring the background noise from festival headliners Cake (although John comes out with an amusing line, “I’m going to get baked and watch Cake”). They admire my gig book and scribble messages in it, which gives me an idea; I’m going to ask other people I’ve met to also scribble messages. I said it was just an idea, I didn’t say it was a great one.

We hit the road at 8 as Cake bring their nondescript countrified rock set to a close. The Aunts tour manager shuffles them out to a nearby hotel, and Carol and I split ahead of the traffic, getting back to Ed’s at 11ish after another speedy journey enlivened by a burning car on the roadside, and talk of urban moose and falcons. Cool! Carol refuses my offer to chip in for petrol money, but this is not a surprise as “gasoline” is about £1 a gallon in the US ! Thank her for her fine company, and head for the sack at midnight; that’s an early night for this vacation so far!

6. Monday 9 August

Today turns out to be a bit of an “on hold” day. Wake up at 7 but eventually get up and get the day started at 9. Make some calls, then Judy calls me to confirm the Baby Ray trip to New York this afternoon. Ed wakes up but is sick; I think the last couple of nights have triggered some flu-type of response. He heads on back to bed, and I head off to meet up with the Baby Ray guys, having phoned Bob Carlton from Dryer at Q Division (for whom this is day 2 of a 2 day recording booking) to apologise that we won’t meet up.

Judy lets me in to her apartment, and tells me that NYC is off; Paul has a stomach problem, which has necessitated a trip to the hospital. I’m disappointed but in a way relieved, as I can now catch up with Dryer, and I’ll still see Baby Ray as they’re playing in Boston on Thursday. Erich, the Baby Ray vocalist, shows up, a hyper and gangly chap who is pissed off that he still has to go to NYC to work.

I head off back to the apartment and try to rouse Ed for directions to Q, but not even shouting at him from his doorway makes an impression on his comatose condition. Roommate Dave gives me directions, and I head off. It’s a nice day and I have time to kill, so I decide to walk over Harvard Bridge , stopping as photo opportunities present themselves. Boston skyline is particularly impressive from the bridge.

Finally tire of walking when I reach Tower Records, so hop in a cab. Big mistake. The cabbie doesn’t know which direction to go when he hits Albany Street (where Q is located), and we also get stuck in traffic, so the mistake is also expensive.

Get to Q at 4, and surprise Bobby Dryer, who greets me with a bear hug. Bob is a short, round oriental guy with whom I hit it off immediately, and we lark around like old buddies. Bruce MacFarlane is working with Bob, and is also pleased to see me. The other Dryer chaps are less open, but this is down to tiredness as much as anything else. Pete Caldes and Mike Gent show up briefly; Mike is on a mission to find out how he can apply for the vacant Foo Fighters guitarist position. He’s not kidding.

Colin, the Q assistant and my willing chauffeur, goes for food as Dryer take a break from recording so Bruce can watch “The Simpsons”. This I discover is a ritual of Bruce’s. I order a goats cheese and chicken green salad. This turns out to be soaked in a sweet vinaigrette sauce, which is delicious and makes up for the fact that I appear to be eating dandelion leaves. Make a mental note to get some in the UK . Vinaigrette, that is, not dandelion leaves. The Gravy show up to check on their contribution to the Q Christmas record, which is being mastered this week. They all greet me like an old friend, which is really nice.

Time ticks on, so I hitch another ride from Colin to the “T”. Joke about Todd’s antiquated pushbike but compliment him on wearing a crash helmet. My recent Magic Roundabout crash story is re-told. Bob gives me a Dryer t-shirt, which is really cool (“Dryer rocks; your band sucks”). He’s been great company all afternoon.

Get the “T” again, no problem. I’m getting more comfortable on the “T” than I am on the London Underground. Back to Ed’s for 9.30. He’s slightly revived so we split the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen (comfortably the size of my bicycle wheel) and watch weird TV on Comedy Central. This one is an early night as well; before midnight!!

7. Tuesday 10 August

Wake up at 8, full of good intentions to do touristy things today, to take advantage of the opportunity I thought I wouldn’t have, due to the cancelled stopover in NYC. Up and out by 10.30 to walk the “Freedom Trail”! Get off the “T” a stop or 2 early to take photos of Boston from Longfellow Bridge, then face a walk over to start the walk.

Get there at 12. I’m knackered before I start! Fortify myself with some mineral water and fried dough, which amazingly is exactly what it sounds like, but tastes good with cherry jam and icing sugar piled on top. I begin to realise why such a large percentage of Americans are obese, with fare like this.

Start walking the Freedom Trail, a well-signed walk around Boston ’s most historically significant landmarks, and get as far as Quincy Market before stopping. Quincy Market is a larger scale version of Covent Garden , with a trendy mixture of boutiques and barrow-boy stalls. It’s obviously a total tourist trap, which shows in the price of the knickknacks and souvenirs. Nevertheless, I get a groovy t-shirt for Evan, and some other gifts, before hitting the Freedom Trail again.

I’m not a historian by any means, and both the historical and cultural references of the sites, such as Paul Revere’s house, are largely lost on me. I’m not sure why I’m even doing the walk, but settle on the following reasons;

a) to be able to say I did it, and
b) to counterbalance the heavily “rock” aspects of my trip with some “touristy” things.

That’s not too bad, is it?

Eventually reach the Bunker Hill Monument , the conclusion of the Freedom Trail, via a meander round to see the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”. Stop for a double decker ice cream; vanilla and M&M flavour. The M&M bit has actually got M&M chocolate sweets in it. Weird. Anyway, thus fortified, I decide to climb the 294 steps to the top of the monument. Big mistake again. Less than halfway up and I’m gasping for air, and have to make an unscheduled pit stop. Nevertheless, I make it and am rewarded with some fine vistas from the hothouse of an observatory.

Head back to the “T” via the Fleet Center , the Boston Bruins (Ice Hockey) and Celtics (Basketball) joint stadium. Well impressed by the scale of the complex, which also incorporates a local railway terminus. The “T” takes me to Arlington , and I walk down Newbury Street , an exclusive “boutique” area of Boston . And I thought Quincy Market was expensive! Sheesh!

Back on the “T” to Central, where I stop at the Middle East for tea, then hit Ed’s at 8 p.m. Forego the option of joining Ross Phasor at the WMBR radio station, which Judy suggested to me on Friday. I’m just too knackered, and fall asleep for an hour or so.

Awake at 9 p.m. in a slight panic, as I don’t know when tonight’s show starts or where the Lizard Lounge is. A call to Tremont sorts things out, and Pete Stone comes to the rescue of the stranded and flailing Brit, picking me up at 10. What a gentleman!

We head over the Lizard Lounge in good time for the Gentlemen, who are basically Mike Gent, backed up by the Gravel Pit minus Jed, indulging their more trad-rock and bluesy urges. The set veers between hard rocking blues and a more West Coast FM radio sound, with Mike Gent’s harsh strident tones complementing the material well. The guys are more restrained than Saturday, due to the restrictions of the Lizard Lounge (it reminds me of playing in someone’s front room; the band set up in the middle, and everyone gathers around) which mutes their dynamism somewhat. They’re not the Gravel Pit (despite the fact that they are, well, three quarters anyway) but the set is still well rocking and fun.

Senor Happy are on soon after, and Tom Polce (my “awesome” conversationalist) and Joe McMahon (who I met at the Pit aftershow party and who reminds me of my friend Rich, being equally round, bald, bearded and funny) prove able back-ups for vocalist Derek Skanky. Derek has somewhat of a “reputation” around town, but onstage is very talented and knows it. The set initially disappoints, but picks up when Ed’s roommate Dave joins on extra guitar, and their understated moody bedsit guitar pop takes on an extra edge. The groovy, edgy and deliciously short (less than a minute long!) “Take You There” and “Soon” are the highlights of a fine set.

Get a cab back to Ed’s, as he has to pack the stuff away at the rehearsal space. Hit the hay just after 1, when it suddenly hits me what a busy day this has been.

8 Wednesday 11 August

I don’t need to be up till late today, which is great, as I wake at 8 then fall comatose until 10.30! Get the day going at 11.30, and call Gary Waleik as I’m about to leave to meet him. Unfortunately he postpones, as he’s getting over a stomach bug. First Ed, then Paul from Baby Ray, now Gary; am I the bringer of sickness or what?

Hastily re-plan today, and head over to Harvard Square, with the little money I have left, looking for essential record purchases. Find a couple of Dumptruck records and a Big Dipper CD single I didn’t have; I’d call them essential! Stop during the afternoon for a “sub”, a beef roll the size of my forearm, and the over-consumption issue is once again illustrated. For a lot of Americans, this is just a snack; for me it’s pretty much all I need to eat all day! I can’t really argue as I’m doing some over-consuming myself, but for me it’s records and not food!

Hop onto the “T” to get over to Tremont for 6 p.m. to meet the man of Stone. Arrive in time to catch James returning with the laundry, which was funny. Pete arrives from work and we hang for awhile before heading off to pick up Mike Paolo on the way to the tiny recording studio near Fenway Park , home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, which the Sterlings have rented to do some new demos. Pete is a funny, slightly cynical but entertainingly bitchy conversationalist. I find out slightly more than I need to know about Tracy Bonham, for example!

The studio is in a run down warehouse opposite the ballpark. I’m amazed that amongst all the dirt and dust, that a series of compact yet fully equipped recording studios and rehearsal rooms fill the building. Mike tells me that there are a number of such complexes in Boston , and it suddenly occurs to me why the Boston rock scene is so vibrant. Give a seedling water, food and room to grow, and watch it flourish.

Hang for a couple of hours with the Sterlings, finally meeting Ben, the mysterious 4th Sterling . Mike demonstrates a closet perfectionist streak as he rejects take after take of a guitar track to finish a new, moody song, considering he doesn’t have the right “feel”. The others present, myself included, find the first take “awesome”, but Mike perseveres. Ed later tells me that he loves the Sterlings and managed them once, but felt that he cared about the band more than they did. He’s obviously not been in the studio with Mike Paolo recently!

Leave at 9ish and ultimately walk the hour or so back to Ed’s in Cambridge , having been passed by a bus as I walked across Harvard Bridge . D’oh! Ed arrives home at 10.30 after sorting out his finances with the Pit manager, Michael Creamer, and we chill out, eat pizza and chat music and stuff into the small hours. He’s surprised that I bring up the Tarquin Records Christmas album into the conversation and that I know the Philistines Jr., “a bunch of rich kids from Connecticut ”. Something else I need to thank my friend Clive for. Overall, I was very glad I got to chill out and chew the cud with Ed, a lovely bloke who I would be glad to call a friend even if there was no rock music connection.

9. Thursday 12 August

Wake up at 9 a.m. and sort my day out immediately. Rearrange my meeting with Gary Waleik for this lunchtime, so I have a lazy morning and leave to catch the “T” at 11. Head out to Woodlands, a leafy suburb of Boston and close to Natick , where Gary now resides. Natick is an affluent “white picket fence” type Massachusetts town which, Gary later informs me, is also where Johnathan Richman comes from!

Gary meets me from the “T” in his pickup, and we head over to a fine Italian restaurant for lunch. Gary is slightly bulkier than his days with the Big Dipper, but is no less friendly and honest. We chat and compare 1st time parenthood experiences (his daughter, Marlee, is 8 months younger than my son Evan), and find marked similarities. Gary insists on paying for lunch; a “thank you” for my suggesting to Ed that Gary had lost touch with the local scene and that he, Ed, should do something for him. Ed had sent a package of CDs from the Pit, Sterlings etc., together with a letter mentioning my name and the fact that all these bands admired the Dipper. The package arrived when Gary was going through the worst of the “baby blues” and he said it lifted his spirits. I give Gary a Winnie The Pooh stuffed toy which I’d bought for Marlee, which Gary is also really pleased about.

We then hang out and talk in the basement of his house, into which he’s installed a recording studio. I insist he take a photo of me in front of a rack, in which are stacked all the master tapes for all the Big Dipper recordings. For me this is tantamount to a holy shrine. We talk for a couple of hours, and I try to clumsily explain what the Big Dipper mean to me. I hope I don’t appear too fannish or freakishly obsessive to Gary; he’s a genuinely humble chap, who is either unsure or unaware of his influences on both my musical tastes and on the Boston rock scene in general. I leave with another armful of free music, including a CD of “Heavens” which has been on my CD “wishlist” for years, and some great memories.

(A couple of indications of the Dipper influence;

a). Ed had been complaining that various local musicians had been inviting him to “jam” with them, and was getting annoyed about it. When I pass on Gary ’s statement that he’d like to get together to play some music with Ed, Ed’s immediate response was that it’d be an honour to do so. Ed, I hope you’ve sorted something with Gary.
b) When I met Mikey Dee (see later), he asked me about the roots of my Boston rock passion. I said, “Two words; Big Dipper”. A look of total understanding then passed across his features.)

Back to Ed’s; hang out with Dave and Toirm and sort some packing out before Ed gets home at 7. We hit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a very grandiose establishment in the Back Bay area. A film called “Payoff” about Boston rock women filmed by Kaylyn Thornal, a friend of Ed, is being shown. The film deals with the specific issues and prejudices rock women face, through the experiences of Boston women, particularly Jen Trynin and Laurie Geltman. For me, some of the featured women (Merrie Amsterburg, Jules Verdone and Letters To Cleo’s Kay Hanley, who is funny and rude) come across very well. Others, particularly Laurie (who is Kaylyn’s girlfriend and the main focus of the film) fare less well, seeming to my uneducated eyes to fall back onto the sexism line of argument when they hit a setback in their careers. I dunno, the film was thought provoking and I acknowledge there is a lot of sexist bullshit that rock women have to climb through, but it strikes me that male bands have similar shitty experiences. Just consider the extreme indifference faced by the Dipper in their latter stages, and the 5 years of record company wrangles that nearly tore apart the Gigolo Aunts, for example.

Please ignore the above; I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’ve never been there. These are just the rambling views of an outsider. Anyway, Laurie plays a short set afterwards, an understated set with a folky/ blues feel, which fails to impress and is only notable due to the presence of ex latter-day Big Dipper (and Del Fuego and Embarrassment!!) drummer Woody Geissman in her band. Jules Verdone, however, rocks. Her subsequent set is moving and heartfelt in parts, and in your face in others. Jules is also really striking and very attractive, and I find I feel very self-conscious when Ed introduces me to her. I hope I don’t come across like a complete dick when I mention to her that I hope this is her last “live” performance for just a short while, and not forever.

Have a brief chat with Woody Geissman and farewell hugs with James Horrigan, before Ed and I head over to the Lizard Lounge. We meet up with Pete, Lucky, Ed’s girlfriend Carrie, and Kate, before I pop downstairs to see Baby Ray. I arrive at 10.30, literally a minute before they start. They put on a great show and I’m immediately jigging along to their splendid mutant blend of edgy guitar, weird chord/ tempo changes and generally challenging and intelligent guitar pop. “Sugar Mine”, as orthodox as Baby Ray get, is an early highlight, but newer, unfamiliar numbers impress as well, despite sailing close to the easy tag of XTC impersonations.

Meet up with Judy after the show before she leaves (Judy has insisted on taking pictures of me rocking out to Baby Ray; again I have no real problem but remain a little suspicious of her motives). She introduces me to Mikey Dee, a Boston DJ and editor of the local fanzine “The Noise”, who I recognise from his clip in Caitlin’s film. I chat with him and Shane Phillips; Mikey had apparently heard a lot about my trip and wanted to hear more about it - so I tell him!

Hang out with the Pit boys during the innocuous set by headliners Trocadero (or at least I think that’s what they were called; I wasn’t really paying attention). Finish the evening by greeting the Baby Ray boys (Ken Lafler’s ears prick up in particular when I tell him I’m from Swindon . Hmm.) and saying fond farewells to Lucky and Pete.

Ed drops me off and leaves for Carrie’s, but not before loading me with t-shirts, CDs and farewell greetings. He’s been such an excellent host, and I’d recommend Hotel Du Valauskas to all my friends. Hit the hay at 3 a.m. for about 3 hours, before I need to hail a taxi to get to the airport.

The vacation is drawing to a close, and the timing, like so many other aspects of this vacation, is perfect. I am just about full to bursting with all the fine hospitality, friendship and rock experiences that I can cope with in one sitting. I am however sorry that I didn’t catch up with the Colonel after Saturday, just to say cheerio and a heartfelt thanks. Nevertheless, this has been a hell of a trip, surpassing my expectations. Boston rules and the Gravel Pit rocks the house!

10. Friday 13 August

Josh’s buzzer wakes me at 6 a.m. so I call a taxi, clear out and get to the airport in good time to book in. Another uneventful 7 hours in the air, and I gain all the hours back, touching down at 8 p.m.. Home at 11. A great time. Thanks Ed.

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