Oct 122013
 

When I speak to Ollie on the phone from home the afternoon after the New York gig in The Rockwood Music Hall he tells me that Kodaline will be playing on the very same stage in the very same building tonight. I like Kodaline and I wouldn’t mind going down to see them. But first things first. How many times have I said I’d go to the famous Museum Of Modern Art while here in Manhattan and never made it? So I have a quick sashimi lunch and head over just a few streets from the hotel.

Chaves -Stu - Leo

The woman at the ticket desk asks me if I’m aware that the museum will close in less than two hours. I say I am and that one moment in a place like this can be worth the admission price. She agrees. But to be honest, you’d really want more time in here and while my two hours were full of numerous types of visual and aural pleasures and stimulations, I’d certainly go back again and spend at least twice that amount of time in there.

When I come out there’s Connolly’s across the street so I reckon I’ll go in an see what it’s like and have a refreshment after my artistic experience. The barman downstairs is a Donegal man so we talk a bit of football and I head back to the hotel to relax a whileen. Anto arrives in, he’s been downtown on the subway mooching around. So after about an hour we leave the hotel for the streets of New York.

We go to an Eastern European bar around the corner and have a Balitika, I’m not sure which number – Anto used drink this beer when he was in St. Petersburg in the 90s he tells me. We contemplate going down to see Kodaline but, as Irish people do, we get lazy and hang on around the fifties, over to Ninth Avenue, what used to be and maybe still is known as Hell’s Kitchen. We try an Irish bar, I can’t remember the name, and the barman recognizes us, offers a couple a shots of Jameson and we’re beginning to be properly New Yorked. Anto decides to take a dive for safety. But I have it in my head that I have to end up in McCoy’s again; god knows why. I manage to get ‘The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle’ album on for oul’ times sake, thinking of Mannion; this being one of his favourite NY customs and by the time the second side starts I’m only fit for the short walk back to the hotel, on this, a rare night off.

This volume of gigs is something we’ve never done before. Ten nights playing out of eleven –

Collinsville, CT.
Piermont, NY.
Ringwood, NJ.
Asbury Park.NJ.
Rockwood Music Hall, NY.
Londonderry, NH.
Fall River, MA.
White River Junction, VT.
Webster, MA.
South Yarmouth, MA.

Sounds hectic but it actually isn’t really. It’s very manageable. The drive to Londonderry from New York took a bit longer than we expected but other than that the excursions are generally around the three hour mark, they’re in the middle of the day avoiding the heavy traffic hours and the weather has been warm and dry, making it comfortable on the roads and easy to read the roadsigns.

The Tupelo in New Hampshire (‘Live Free Or Die’ it says on the state number plates) is a familiar one to us – we’ve been here twice before, once as recently as last March. A lovely wooden room like all the rooms that have been chosen for us by our agent, Mary Granata. She’s really found venues that suit what we’re doing – and even we didn’t really know what we were going to be doing when she booked them a few months back. The audience in The Tupelo is warm and attentive as you’d expect and we have another great night. We’ve got a hotel room a few miles down the road and thankfully there’s a bar open within a few minutes walking. It’s a British beer bar so Anto is very happy. He orders a Boddington’s in honour of his native land. I opt for the brewing of the Belgian Trappist monks.

Tupelo

In previous times we would have remained in the vicinity of the venue where we’d played when we’d go for the ‘Where ya goin’ after?’ but on this trip, having the car, we pack up and drive to where we’re staying so where we end up finding somewhere to sit down and enjoy an after-show refreshment is totally removed from the gig and its crowd. It’s kinda nice arriving in a bar in Wherever, almost like you’ve arrived from outer space. And if the barperson asks you what you’re doing in the area, they haven’t even heard of the venue you’ve been playing at, not to mind the act.

Similar in Fall River on Thursday night. The Narrows Center is a wonderfully warm wooden room, three storeys up with a classically rich and warm-sounding PA system expertly controlled by Patrick, our host. He and his team make everything easy for us and every minute in the building is a pleasure. Again, the audience is attentive and lively at the same time.

Our old mad-dancing friend, Stuart Moran (no relation) is over from Rhode Island with his friend, Chaves, and our friend and promoter from the Cape, Tony Raine is here with Scott and Zach. We pack out and drive the ten minutes, over the gorgeously wide river, to the hotel. The bar next door is Jillian’s Sports Bar And Grille. It’s apparently a Red Sox ‘HQ’ but there’s not too much sporty stuff going on. Stu and Chaves and Scott join us for the night cap of a couple a glasses of beer. Stu and Chaves are on the ‘soda’ – teachers; early start in the morning.

Not a late start for us either; White River Junction, VT. our next stop….

Oct 102013
 

It’s Planet New York Time.

We’re told how to drive in Manhattan – ‘Blow the horn a lot and shout ‘Asshole’’.

New York

I’m behind the wheel of the Chevy Impala on Monday lunchtime as we navigate North towards the Lincoln Tunnel and New York City. Sure enough, we’re not long after coming out from under the Hudson when a van driver beside us does the horn and the asshole thing. Not at us, thank god.

Everything runs fairly smoothly actually, and it’s barely over an hour since we left Freehold that we’re parking the car on 50th St. Thanks to our old friend Mark we have a really nice hotel across the road from the parking garage. It’s all good.

Checked in and comfy earlier than we might have expected, it’s time for lunch. Mark asks the Karena behind the desk to see if she can google a nice Korean or Vietnamese restaurant for us. In no time at all she has found Bann, read a few reviews and is sending us on our way on 50th towards 9th Avenue. It’s a Korean place. We have noodle soup; Anto the beef, me, the seafood, and it’s all delicious. That’s one of the things I love about New York – you imagine exactly what you’d like to eat and you’re very likely within ten minutes of it – in this case, three minutes.

My couple of spare hours wandering around the fifties are a pleasure. Still warm and sunny before the first rain of the trip arrived later in the afternoon, it’s sunny and bright and noisy and buzzy. I stop in to a café for a coffee. I ask for an espresso and a chocolate chip cookie. The man puts the cookie in a paper bag for me and I stand back and wait for the coffee while a young woman stands in and makes her order. When my espresso is ready the man hands it to me and I look and the cookie and the woman are gone. Ah well…might’ve been a genuine mistake; she wouldn’t want to be doing that sort of thing around this town too often though – imagine if she made the mistake of taking Cookie Monster’s cookie?

We get a cab in the rain downtown to the venue – The Rockwood Music Hall. A classy spot, down on Allen Street. Tommy and Claire, over from Caherlistrane, call in to say hello while we’re setting up. Lovely to see them. Tommy has been a stalwart enthusiast and supporter since he was a teenager and is the finest archivist of Tuam’s original music since the seventies.

The gig evening is delightfully hectic; they’re all similar actually. We meet the soundman, set up, do the soundcheck, meet the promoter, figure out the CDs, do the set-list, do the first half of the show, sell and sign the CDs, meet everyone, do the second half of the gig, sell and sign and meet again, pack the gear away, get the papers signed and meet whoever is left in the bar.

Tonight’s crowd includes a contingent from ‘The Toon’ – a gang over from Newcastle Upon Tyne, most of whom have been to Tuam once or more. They’ve created their own backing vocal in Clare Island which works very well. Fair play The Toon!

While other gigs blaze away in this hotbed of musical activity we’re out having a chat with a good percentage of our audience in the back bar, most of whom are familiar from over the years.

We eventually move upstairs to the venue’s ‘Bar Zero’ and there we meet our old friend, Sean Guerin, down from Boston, and Skin, Kevin Duffy’s brother. And up at the bar there’s Jim Jenks who put on a concert for us a couple of weeks ago and the talented gentleman that is Willie Nile; always a pleasure.

Willie gets to jam with Bruce every now and then so he’s assured me he’ll find out if Bruce got our CD when next they cross paths.

Typically in this city, the night goes on and on and Anto and I manage eventually to get a cab and get the instruments back safely to the hotel. We go for wan in McCoy’s but the sleep gets the better of me. Great day and a night though.

Oct 102013
 

Back again in The Garden State. We drove down South from Ringwood after Drew’s House Concert – his 149th – in the finest of rooms; a high ceiling, all warm wooden surroundings and even a stairs and a little landing-type balcony, all looking out on a small lake out the back. A really close evening with all the audience. Drew has it all down. The audience brought food and drink and came in and relaxed and participated and enjoyed the whole experience. And – ours was the first concert to have a saxophone! Anto is the first saxophonist after 149 shows in the venue.

Leo&Anto

We arrived at Hicks’ again at about midnight and unwound in our familiar and homely surroundings in Freehold – aaaaaahhhhhh. Sunday Mary navigated Anto and me over to visit Mary and Bill in Monroe where we passed a lovely time before heading back, avoiding the small roads, to say good luck to Billy heading back up to Penn. State. Avoiding the small roads on Jimmy Hicks’ advice as, this weekend, these roads are lined with pick-your-own-apples orchards and pumpkin farms to which throngs flock from Jersey and the city to stock up for Halloween.

We waved Billy off to Penn. State and tucked into the delicious Mexican buffet at Hicks’ and when Dennis arrived we headed towards the Atlantic and Asbury Park. As clear as day in Freehold, an eerie fog was hanging over Asbury Park creating a strange metallic light.

Hanging out on the street outside The Saint for a few minutes, three different men asked us for money. While the town has been enhanced over the last few years, there are obviously still plenty of people down on their luck and out of work around here.

The venue, the crowd, the support acts – Emily Grove, Tony and Gorgo – the sound – all top of the range. We feel very lucky and delighted at how the gigs are going and how satisfied the audience is – even if Bruce didn’t manage to make it this time either.

Back to Freehold after conversing with everyone and packing up and Noreen stays up late for a chat while the cold bottle of beer is most welcome after the night’s activities.

Oct 052013
 

Last night we found out that Susquehanna means ‘Mile wide, foot deep’ and Lackawanna means ‘River with a fork’.

Many thanks to the ‘Quinn Gang’ for half-time research brought on by my introduction to ‘Friday Town’, explaining its references to the Irish place names that carry pictures and meanings and indications towards physical features and events of times past that their sound-alike translations leave behind.

Anto Lunch

Bridge St. Live in Collinsville was a bigger room than we’d anticipated but it was filled with a genuine enthusiasm and warmth from everyone who left their homes this Thursday night and came along to join us for a few songs and stories.

Tommy Shea informed me that it was the 46th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s death so I had a rough go at ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ in the encore in honour of one of the greatest and most important songwriter we know. So relevant in the time of the Dust Bowl Disaster in the first half of the 20th century – and again in Ireland and probably here in the US too at the beginning of the 21st.

After packing all the gear we head back to motel, gasping with thirst. Luckily there’s a kind of a restaurant bar about a genuine half a mile down the road. We enter the front, eating, side which is closed up and out the back is the bar. There are about six or seven men sitting around the counter. They look a bit startled to see two strangers arriving in at this hour of the night. The barmaid is friendly. Says she’s gone twenty and would like to move somewhere for a change and probably come back to here, where she’s from, in time. She has an elaborate tattoo on her left arm all the way from her shoulder to her elbow. The design comprises her and her family’s birth flowers. She thinks she’ll move to Austin, Texas. We’ve been to Austin, a great town for music. The two tired men have two bottles of beer and get back to motelLand.

Up early; I’d a liked to have said bye to our neighbour, Nick, but no sign a him. We hit the diner for breakfast again and get on the road to Piermont. John at The Turning Point recommends us a hotel where we get the venue rate so we pull in there and relax for a couple of hours. Cool.

The Turning Point is a perfectly formed venue. Downstairs under the Mexican restaurant’s deck, it’s all wooden and cosy and nookey and warm feeling, carrying the atmosphere of its legacy of music and song over the years. There’s a great ambiance already and there’s only John, Anto and meself in the place.

When the crowd comes in it’s packed and electric and we enjoy the kind of enthusiasm and attention and participation that we’ve come to expect over the last two weeks.

When we pack out, guess what – we’re two thirsty boys again. We drop the car back at the hotel and walk towards a bar and grill that comes up as the nearest watering-hole possibility on the iPhone. We never get there. On our way down the hill we spy a warm, comfy, snug, tastefully lit, curtainy place across the road. The Avida Wine Bar. Lovely.
Melissa behind the bar is bubbly and chatty and they have Peroni on tap and Chimay in bottles as well as plenty of good wine. Ricardo is the owner and his wife chooses songs on the juke-box, every one of which Anto and myself loved – ‘Under The Boardwalk’ and ‘Brown Sugar’ for instance.

As they’re closing up Ricardo tells us he has a steak-house in Pearl River and he’ll be putting out a food-stall tomorrow for the town’s big day.

From there we turn not left for home, but right, further down the hill. It is New York and the time is only shortly after 2am.

Sure enough, we hit a hoppin’ strip. O’Malley’s draws us in; a lively Irish bar, plenty of young people in but not shocking loud or packed. A big band has just finished and is packing out. We get chatting to Shane and Kieran behind the bar, have a couple of beers and head back up the hill – it didn’t seem this steep on the way down…..

Only a short journey again this morning, we take our time and stick Pearl River into the satnav. It’s Pearl River Day and the main street is closed off and flanked by all sorts of food and other stalls. There’s a lovely small-town, almost quaint, feeling about the proceedings. The day is cloudy but warm and down in front of La Quinta is a stage with a very talented woman singing and playing piano. We say hello to Ricardo who’s working at his stall out front and take a seat and have a delicious lunch. It’s all good. Strangely quite a few people come up and say hello to us; we almost feel like locals here.

There are troupes of young dancers performing amongst the food stalls and the clothes stalls and the bouncy castles. There’s candy floss and trinkets and little glass bottles filled with different coloured sand; all that and more. Happy Pearl River Day 2013!

Oct 042013
 

Such majestic rivers we crossed yesterday – the Susquehanna and The Hudson. The scale of the beauty of this country manage to impress us daily. We’ve almost become accustomed to the stunning colours of the foliage by which we are continually surrounded. Then these rivers, broad and calm; an age-old splendour emanating from their slow waters. What a pleasure to behold.

Connecticut trees

We set Bridie, our satnav woman, to bring us to New Milford, which would take us off the main road. And she did just that.

We got out of the car in the centre of town; a lovely wide boulevard with a park in the middle, sporting an old army tank, upon which Anto had to climb of course. We were looking for wi-fi so we could plan our descent into the vicinity of the next gig; Collinsville CT. Collinsville doesn’t show up on every map; it must be quite a small place, and the two oul’ lads whose questions we answered in O’Connor’s Bar (the third place we tried and the first to have wi-fi and/or not be closing in ten minutes) had never heard of the place. One a them asked us if we’d ever been to Greenwich Village. He hasn’t been down there in forty years. “There used to be some wackos then there were loads of wackos on drugs and now there’s not too many wackos”

Our coffee and tea on the table, our communication instruments heating up, it wasn’t long before we had a plan. On Theresa and Glen, two loyal supporters in the Collinsville area’s, recommendation, we head for the Hillside Motel and pull in at around 8pm. It’s a classic. Rural, quaint, slightly dilapidated but clean; it’s another part of the real America. Our host is maybe Greek and doesn’t have perfect English. We ask him about the Portobello Restaurant and Bar down the road. How far is it?

“About a half mile” he says. Sound we say, we’ll walk.

“Why would you walk?”

“Because we’d like to have drink”

“Have one drink and drive then”

No, we’ll walk, just in case we might be tempted to have the second one. ‘A bird never flew on one wing’ an all that.

Hillside Motel

So walk we do. It’s dark and the road is reasonably busy. There’s a spookiness about a lot of America for me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s all the insect noises. Maybe Stephen King and his ilk are to blame. But I often sense it. We’re flanked on both sides by tall trees, the home to all sorts of creatures. Crickets and frogs for sure; what sounds like alpha-male frogs are chirping the loudest. There are all sorts of greenery aromas; sweet and fresh and damp; one like liquorice, another like marijuana.

We walk into the darkness, our night vision frequently disturbed by headlights, for what I would reckon is well over half a mile. It strikes me it’s easy say ‘About half a mile’ when you’re used to driving it.

Anyway, the lights show soon enough and there it is. The two boys are thirsty now and the first Sam Adams Octoberfest doesn’t last long.

We both order the Portobello pasta special, and a fine lump of a meal it is. And the glass of Shiraz we both have is no harm either. Theresa and Glen arrive and join us for a lovely drink and a chat and when the bar closes Anto and I head back to the Hillside, enjoying every step on the now quieter roadway, taking in all the sensations being offered to us by Mother Nature.

Just before we reach our destination, a calavcade of flashing lights appears behind us; four flashing cop cars lead a wide load; and it’s not a particularly wide load; and two others back it up. Some effort from the highway health and safety department over here.

Our sleep is slightly disturbed by a couple in the room next-door. Motel life!

This morning we check in at the other diner up the road, right beside the restaurant and shops and we walk to the diner for breakfast and on the way back take a picture at the sign for the state recreation area – ‘SATAN’S KINGDOM’. Why?

I’m back over across the road at the motel, sitting on a bench outside the room next door and a young man emerges unexpectedly. Maybe in his early thirties, a thick dark beard, short hair and deeply sunken eyes, dressed in jeans and a grunge shirt.

“You guys new here?”

“Yeah”

“My name’s Nick. What’s yours?”

“I’m Leo and this is Anto”

“You doing some hiking round here?”

“We’ll have a small hike alright”

“You guys play video games? That’s what I’m doing in here. Wanna come in and play some video games?”

“Ah, no thanks, I’m no good at them at all, but thanks. I hope we didn’t disturb you”

“No, not at all guys”

I’m kinda liking whatever it is about motels….in a strange way.

Oct 032013
 

“Early one morning, the sun was shining” as a young lad from Minnesota said wan time.

Anto just asked me to put Mary Lee’s Corvette’s version of ‘Blood On The Tracks’ on the iPhone through the car stereo system again. Given to me, not by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century but by Tommy Shea a few years back. It’s a fantastic take on all the songs and I’ve even heard a few lyrics with her phrasing that I hadn’t heard as clearly on the original.

Leaves

We’re somewhere in Pennsylvania, driving on Route 22, a picturesque off-highway road in the sunshine. Big hills covered in leaf-turning trees; ahead I see a ski-slope carved out of one of them. A winding, one-lane-each-way road, this is the type of journey we’d hoped we’d be able to take. We just had lunch at Dream restaurant – a down-home shtyle American eatery in a place by the lovely name of Hollidaysburg. The array of cakes and pies in the glass display unit near reception was nothing short of spectacular but we managed not to be tempted. Healthy byes – we both had salads; Anto had a bowl of chili and a baked spud; I had broiled haddock and mashed spuds. Lovely.

We pulled out of Pittsburgh this afternoon after having spent two lovely days and nights there. Sunday night we played in the small room at the Irish Cultural Centre. Nadine and Jim hosted us and put on the show flawlessly, brought us for a delicious dinner at the local Belgian restaurant and made sure everything was in place for the evening. And it certainly was. A real pleasure, as was our interaction with the audience.

We decided to stay our first day off in Pittsburgh and stop moving and take stock. We’d just done five gigs in a row – though we’d have to admit it hadn’t felt like any kind of work or stress at all.

In the afternoon I strolled in from the hotel on the Southside over Smithfield St. bridge and set my compass on the strip where the Altar Bar is; where we played the last two years running. Up Penn. Ave. on the same side is Roland’s. I love Roland’s – they have a special between 3 and 6 in the afternoon – clams, oysters and shrimp ¢60 each. My preference is for the large, sweet, briny, raw clams. On the last visit Rickie and myself made friends with the barman; Johnny from Castleblayney. He’s a classic Irish-American barman; loads of patter and energy and good humour. The rest of the staff call him ‘Johnny Irish’ or simply ‘Irish’. He has a good G for everyone – “Hello young man” or “How’s it goin’ there, pretty lady?” and nothing is a problem. I order a dozen clams and a bottle of beer and stay for a couple of hours with a glass of white wine and an extra order from the raw bar. It’s such a pity that a meal like this in Ireland would cost you about fifty euro – that’s if you could get it.

Pittsburgh

Anto suggested we do a spot at the open-mic that evening so I walked back out and got the gear together. Mark Dignam, a musical Dublin emigrant, brought along the sound system at the Cultural Centre, did the sound and played a few songs before us. A mighty man indeed. He was telling us about the open mic thing so on his trustworthy and enthusiastic recommendation we says ‘Why not?’ And we weren’t disappointed. A right variety of super talent was introduced by the singing MC lady and each act was top drawer. I can’t remember all their names so I can’t do them justice but Mark did a dynamic short set of songs from his new album, accompanied by some of his fine local musical friends and collaborators. If you’re ever in the vicinity of a Monday night in Pittsburgh I’d highly recommend the experience at Club Café. And Mark and his colleagues even knew where to go for a ‘late wan’.

We had left the Hicks’ house in Freehold on the previous Wednesday morning after two relaxing nights. After feeding and watering us and giving us beds for Monday and Tuesday, Noreen packed us up with fruit and water and coolers and kitchen roll and Annie Preston’s cookies and other stuff we might be needing on our quest.

You’d want to see young Mary Hicks doing her gymnastics – out the back she showed me again, amongst other feats of supple athleticism, how she can do a 360 from a standing position and land solidly on her feet. God, I just don’t know how she does it, fair play to her.

From Jersey we drove the easy trip to Wilmington, Delaware where we played at the World Café Live. About fifty people came out to see us for our first ever show in Delaware and they were very kind and appreciative, fair play to them. Wilmington seems like a decent little city, but we didn’t see much of it and we pulled out at lunchtime after a nice bit of Greek food and headed for Sykesville, MD.

The gig in Maryland was in Sykesville, an old train station house. Past the tracks out the back flows a lovely little river; fresh and clear. The cool, deep pool below the embankment was almost tempting enough for a dip. We played in a small room and had a ball. Our old friend Governor O’Malley made a mighty effort to come along after one of his civic duties and we had a grand oul’ chat afterwards. Always a privilege and a pleasure.

From there we hit Philly. Got a room at our old haunt, the old Comfort Inn under the always-spectacular Ben Franklin Bridge and headed up to the gig at The Tin Angel. A long narrow room and a sell-out!

The energy off of the loyal and enthusiastic Philadelphia supporters was exceptional and made the gig very easy for us to do. Boisterous but attentive, they were the perfect audience, god bless every one a them.

Anto suggested we meet a few of his friends in the Bier Stube afterwards and it was a great choice. We were well up for a few crisp German beers after the day and the night we had spent in the City Of Brotherly Love.

No rush the following day – the journey to Jersey would only be an hour, so we took the time to skirt off in different directions. My destination was Chinatown where I knew I’d get Summer Rolls and Seafood Noodle Soup in one of the Vietnamese restaurants. And I did. Then I just wandered….

The show in Jersey was a house concert; promoted by Jim and Kim and hosted at Jeff and Melinda’s gorgeous house. They set us up out the back and we played to the folks in front of us and also to the foxes and the bats and the deer and whatever else was in the woods in the Autumn evening air. Like everywhere else, we were looked after like kings, fed and watered amid plenty of lively conversation. We didn’t stay too late though as we knew we had our first fairly lengthy haul in the morning – Jersey to Pittsburgh….

We’re aimless right now as we drive leisurely through Pennsylvania. We’ve never had a day like this on tour before with no rush to our next destination. It’s cool. A proper wandering feeling.

Oct 032013
 

I’ve just been for a walk up the town in Philadelphia this Saturday lunchtime. This in one of the things I love about touring – the aimless urban wandering with a few hours to spare.

Automobile

Today is ideal for it; sunny, bright and warm. My initial destination is Chinatown and I’m thinking of some of my old travel companions; Rickie and Keego and JC, who all, like meself, are very fond of the Vietnamese noodle soup. There’s a selection of Pho restaurants in and around Chinatown and I choose one I haven’t been in before. Summer rolls and seafood egg noodle soup. I take a picture for Rickie and send him a ‘Wish You Were Here’ e-mail from one of the Starbucks on one of nearby corners.

I amble through majestic archways of City Hall. What a beautiful sound echoing from within…… When I get closer it’s an old man with a good few teeth missing, strumming a guitar and singing a song as sweetly as Percy Sledge. A magic moment in Philly.

Across the road there’s a PAVE rally on the concourse – Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment. Its brochure says it’s ‘A national nonprofit that shatters the silence of sexual violence through social, educational and legislative tactics. I arrive for the end of a powerful speech by a slight young woman with crinkly hair and glasses; she ends by proclaiming herself a daughter of the warrior slaves from way back. Her words are strong and clear and received with loud applause and yells from the assembled; a motley crew of young people with slogans on cardboard or scrawled across their bellies and chests like – ‘No means No, Bro’. The majority are women wearing very little clothes, asserting their right to do so without the threat of violence.

I go back through the arches and take a little video of the busker; I felt I had to have a tiny bit of footage of his gorgeous performance to share with you.

It’s time to go back to the car and meet Antny; I’m going to be a few minutes late – I’ve walked up the town a bit further than I’d thought in my spaced-out, sunny Saturday afternoon city reverie.

Oct 032013
 

It’s been some time since last Sunday week, All-Ireland Football Final Day, in Western Massachusetts.

Going to see the match in the States is a distinctive experience. First of all, it’s early in the morning, which creates its own type of excitement – the connection across the Atlantic being emphasized important to both the temporary emigrants and migrants like meself and Anto and the long-term Irish Americans.

Leo & Anto

Tommy promised me from way back he’d take me to see the game in the ‘Boyle’, The John Boyle O’Reilly Club in Sprigfield Mass. I’ve been here before to see games and it’s a proper place to watch them amongst the almost-completely émigré Kerry community.

This year there’s a good crowd of Mayos in the bar downstairs taking their places around their chosen screens amongst the Kerrys, who really believe deep down that The Kingdom should be in the final; they always believe that, and very often they’re correct.

The game didn’t live up to the expectations of two positive, open-minded teams playing each other in the showcase decider but it was exciting – and excruciatingly disappointing for the people of Mayo to have lost another final, their seventh appearance in a row; this one by just one point.

If you toss a coin seven times in a row the odds are over a hundred to one that you won’t guess one of the results right. Dublin are a super squad and deserved to win but they were victorious only two years ago and the last time Mayo got their hands on the cup was in 1951 – their appreciation of an All-Ireland win would have been on a different level.

Their minors won the curtain-raiser though so the future doesn’t look too bad at all for them. And Galway people should not forget that Galway lost four finals between the seventies and the eighties before they went on to take the cup back across the Shannon in 1998.

If that wasn’t enough of a day out, it was only the first half. Suzanne had already driven Antny over to Coventry across the State line, in Connecticut, and Tommy and I followed shortly. Antny had the gear set up when I arrived; he’s a good kid, as the fella says over here. The gig is in Christine and Gerry Feeney’s house on the shore of a picturesque lake I can’t remember the name of, and as I’m writing this in the car with no wi-fi, I’m transported back into the previous century when writers and journalists had to either possess a better memory or look things up in books and the like.

What a location and the house if full of relaxation and hospitality. Christine and Gerry have invited friends and there’s a good few of Gerry’s family over from Ireland as well. Gerry’s dad, Michael, had recently passed away at a fine old age and there’s a book on the desk that his children presented to him on one of his last birthdays. It’s a book of his own poetry. In it is a collection of bardic writing about the events of ordinary people – births, communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals, amongst others. The writing is of a really high standard and not only is the collection touching, it’s a fine record of the life and times of South Galway in the last few decades.

A lovely evening entirely in Connecticut to top off All-Ireland Sunday in the USA – thanks to all.

Sep 252013
 

We left Suzanne and Tommy’s house in Palmer with mixed emotions – sorry to be leaving their, as our friend, the late Eamon Goggin would say – “A1, top-drawer, class, cool-out, mental” hospitality and lively company: happy to be heading off on our road adventure.

Tommy brought us to Hertz at Bradley Airport and we drove out a there, not in the proposed Dodge Avenger but in a Chevy Impala (I was thinking our second-string name would be the Dodge Avengers but maybe Anto’s hotel sign-in name to confuse the paparazzi can be Chevy Impala – Tommy reminded us that The Ramones took their name from Paul McCartney’s hotel signature alias)

Lovely day out in New Jersey at Sandy Hook
Heading South on 91 on a blue-sky, warm Autumn afternoon it was hard not to feel the ‘on the road’ feeling, hard not to say ‘Headin’ South on 91’ without an American accent.

I’ve notions that I’d like to explore some of our journeys away from the highways, but that’s for another day. Today we’re heading to stay with the cousints, the Hicks’s in New Jersey; just getting used to the car and the driving and the navigation.

Arrived in Freehold to more A1, top-drawer hospitality with Noreen and Jimmy and Mary. Relax!

Anto wants to drop off a ‘Flyin’ It’ CD to Bruce Springsteen’s house – we had trouble like this before when we brought a signed tape(!) of The Saw Doctors’ first album, ‘If This Is Rock And Roll I Want My Old Job Back’ to Bruce’s house at the time down the road from here in Rumson.

As far as I remember, it was Pearse, Turps and I who walked up the longish driveway towards the house. A security man emerged from the residence and gently showed us that he was in possession of a potentially fiery piece of metal on his hip. Fair enough. We held up the cassette, and our hands, slowly left the tape on the ground and walked deliberately away. We’d written ‘My wife loves your show’ on the cover, trying to be a bit cheeky and not to appear too sycophantic. I would’ve felt guilty about the intrusion into Bruce’s privacy if it weren’t for his famously telling the story of how he climbed the walls of Graceland in an attempt to meet The King.

This morning in New Jersey looks perfect. Blue sky, horizon to horizon with that hazy, blue-grey you only see on this kind of calm, settled, perfect-looking morning.

Jimmy has taken the day off work to spend with Anto and myself and drive us around. He’s been telling us about what he’s working on – raising houses in the shore area. Literally raising houses.

In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy the whole Jersey coast will be in a state of rejuvenation for a good few years to come. He’s been explaining to us that the regulations have eventually been decided upon and that each house in the stricken flood area will have to be elevated to a certain height above flood-level or else face paying exorbitant insurance premiums – maybe $30,000 a year. It leaves people in terrible dilemmas – those with mortgages on the premises face paying the money owed and deciding whether to spend something like $150,000 to raise the house to the required level or pay the massive insurance bill each year. Those who inherited the buildings and don’t have mortgages were not legally required to have insurance so they have slightly different decisions to make. It’s all very sad and heartbreaking and many people have lost their homes while others have lost the bonus of a house by the shore that they’d worked towards and saved up diligently for over the years.

Jimmy’s work is very interesting. I’ll describe it as best I can, though I may not have every detail correct as I’m no engineer.

His gang come in and prepare a house to be lifted. They disconnect the services and prepare for the lifting company to arrive. When they do arrive, they set up an hydraulic lifting machine with multiple parallel pressure points. This literally raises the house to the required height above flood level, sometimes up to ten feet or even higher. As the house is being raised they build wooden criss-cross chucks beneath the dwelling and it is then rested on girders while the new structure is bricked up and finalized below. When it’s ready they lower the house back down the few inches on to the top blocks and the house is then pronounced flood-safe in the eyes of the insurance companies.

Raising Houses

It must be a sight to see, the raising of the house. Jimmy says it takes a couple of hours from once they start the raising. When a house settles onto its original foundation it ends up not being uniform and even so this has to be allowed for when they’re laying it back down on its new base; fireplaces and chimneys need bracing and support amongst many other concerns. It’s amazing and interesting and part of the good that has come from the ill wind.

Jimmy’s crew then move back in and finish off the job, re-connect the water, gas, electricity and whatever else, finish off the interior structures if necessary and work on the exterior making it look as original and untouched as possible. Jimmy showed us some of the jobs they’ve done and you’d never guess that the lower story has recently been inserted.

Jimmy says there’s a huge workload ahead of them; it was painfully obvious from driving around the area, and they’re looking for tradespeople – I wonder if this would be appealing to any Irish skilled workers who are out of work at the moment?

Now, back to the CD for Bruce. It’s common knowledge that the Springsteens have a house and a horse farm in Colts Neck, an upmarket area of the Garden State which is full of upscale horsey farms and stables; it makes me wonder, which came first – the area’s name or its residents’ bent towards the equine. Some of Jimmy’s and Noreen’s friends gave us directions and descriptions of where it is, but was we drew closer we realized we’d probably need a bit more pinpoint knowledge if we weren’t to drop the CD into some other superstar’s post-box – like one of Bon Jovi or the like….

So we pulled in at the Colts Neck General Store. This place is worth a visit even if you’re not looking for directions to the local global rock-star’s residence. It’s quaint and rural and like stepping back in time a good few decades. All wooden; to the right a small serving counter with a kitchen through the hatch at the back. Coffee jugs on the left; buns and brownies and pieces of cake on the counter-top. The room is divided by another counter with baskets of local fruit and vegetables. The left half of the room has simple, old-style tables and chairs. The Asbury Park newspaper is for sale on a stand between the produce and the food counter.

There’s a lovely young woman behind the counter, in her twenties. I take the task on.

– I know this is a bit silly, but – we’re over here from Ireland, and we’ve made this CD (showing her the masterpiece that is ‘Flying It’; I’m sure she was very impressed) We’d like to drop off a copy to Bruce Springsteen – would you be able to tell us where his house is exactly?

Smiling, she seemed warm enough to the task and gave us a fairly good advance on the directions we’d gotten already. There was no big deal about it; she neither appeared protective of her local superstar’s residence location nor in awe of it either. This was the general impression we got from each person we asked.

We followed her instructions and ticked off the three roads she mentioned. After a couple of miles we felt that we’d probably already passed it. A cop car was driving behind us and we wondered if we’d stirred some security interest by stopping and turning around a few times on these narrow country roads inhabited by extremely wealthy people but when we came to a crossroads we saw a man in a tractor cutting grass and the cops turned off to the right. We drove through and turned back and stopped at the tractor – the driver was out and about to get back in the cab.

I gave him the same story as I gave the girl in the General Store and he smiled as well.

– “Yes, straight on back there, you’ll come to a turn in the road. About fifty yards after it there’s a black metal gate on the left and a stone driveway. That’s Bruce’s house”

He bid us good luck and we thanked him and drove back about a mile. Sure enough, there was the gate; a no-big-deal, inconspicuous gate, with a rough black tarmac driveway. There was nothing to see past the gate, just bushes and trees and a skite of ‘Keep Out’ warning signs. We pulled over and stopped the car. Another car was pulled up right opposite the entrance. I presumed it must be a security person so I went over with the CD in my hand to explain; but it was an old woman – why she would’ve pulled up at this spot on a narrow country road I couldn’t figure but I told her the story and she wished me good luck with a kind of knowing and sympathetic smile. ‘God help us, the poor innocent eejit’.

I walked back across the road, and just as I got to the mailbox the mailman arrived. Such timing. We suspected earlier that asking a postman was a no-go and we were right. I just held up the CD and asked him if this was the right box. He shook his head and growled and drove off as lively as he could. Anyway, we left the signed CD in the box for Bruce. We think he’s still in South America so he probably won’t get to enjoy it for a few days yet…

We really had a perfect day in Jersey, topped off with a visit to Bill and Mary’s home in Monroe where The Saw Doctors resided for all our first runs of gigs in New York and Philly and where I’ve spent so many happy weeks over the years. Then a lovely bit of food cooked by our chauffeur and wonderful host, Jimmy Hicks, in the company of old and new friends.

Lou Reed’s song in mind, I’ll sign off….