07 Dec CHAPTER 14: THE AFTER AFTER AFTER AFTER PARTY
So, it’s September 7, 2019, and I have just performed for the first time ever in Europe, not just once but twice. I’m on cloud nine, and due to an appalling sleep deficit, I feel like I’m watching a movie of myself. I’ve finally met Hans, Jan, Nico and Yasmine, the musicians from Belgium with whom I have worked for several months. Life is good. Little did I know it was about to get even better.
I wanted to spend a little time in Manchester just enjoying the moment. The previous evening my college roommate Bill and I had gone out with Dave, a Brit living in Ilkley who was my roommate years ago when I was living in Dallas, TX and who had also lived in Colorado for a while. Dave and I hadn’t seen each other in years, and he had graciously come to Manchester and booked a room in the same hotel so that we could hang out and so that Dave and Bill could commiserate over their common experience of having had to room with me. 😊
A brief word about Manchester, England. I had never been this far north in England before, and knew nothing about Manchester other than that it had a reputation of being a little bit rough and tumble and a working man’s town and part of the industrial North that had fallen on hard times. I have to say that I really liked Manchester. I found it to be a very friendly and open town. The locals pride themselves in the fact that they aren’t a giant impersonal metropolis and are quick to invite you to join in on whatever they’re doing, which usually involves alcohol. It did have some grit to it, but also lots of heart and energy. Much like Colorado at the moment, there were a lot of cranes around indicating that maybe they are going through a bit of a boom.
If you get a chance to visit Manchester, it’s a worthwhile trip. It has a rich and storied music scene (Oasis, New Order, Stone Roses, Joy Division, Smiths etc.), 2 top-tier premier league football teams, a healthy rivalry with nearby Liverpool, some interesting tourist attractions and great pubs. For those younger than I, the club scene at night is very active. It also has ties to Alan Turing and the splitting of the atom. One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the honeybee, the town symbol, is everywhere. Definitely give it a visit if you can.
So, we walked around Manchester a little and then made our way back to the hotel and rested up before the upcoming gig that evening at a nearby pub. When the time came, I grabbed my guitar and walked down to the Old Nag’s Head where I’d be playing with the Belgians again. Can I just say that for a moment I felt like the “real deal”, walking through Manchester, England with my guitar in hand on my way to the pub? That was a musician moment.
When I got to the Old Nag’s Head, I went up stairs where people had already started to gather. Wouldn’t you know it, Ian and Jon-Paul had once again come through like champs. Rick was already there and had the sound system set up and ready. Bugsy Travels was just finishing their set up and sound check. I found enough of a spot to stand and plugged in my guitar. While that rest of the band went to grab a beer, I did a sound check and performed Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” if I remember correctly. I was about to go grab a beer myself, when Rick told me just to keep going, so I played another song, maybe Ryan Adams “Oh My Sweet Carolina”?
As I finished up my second song, the Belgians came over. They thought I had started without them! They were obviously as excited as I was about the whole experience and ready to go. I signaled to Bill at the back of the pub to get me a beer. Good thing I had a travelling companion huh?
To begin the set, Jan and I performed a Travel Bugs single “The Worst Cacher” which isn’t even on the CD. Man, it felt really good to do that song with him. It worked so much better as an acoustic duet. At its core, it is a drinking song, so it went over very well. I recorded that song as a pastime experiment, but it finally made sense there in a pub. Wish I had known Jan when I recorded it.
Then the whole band kicked in. The show at the convention center was good… this gig was amazing! We weren’t just background music. People were there to see us play, and the energy level in the room was incredible. I’m sure my memory is rose-tinted, but I recall that we sounded great. I was probably just so happy that nothing could bring me down.
We played our full set, and although I still struggled with “TFTC” and made a few mistakes, we were much tighter than the first performance. Plus, going off script seemed appropriate. I even got comfortable enough to wing it a little. One of Jan’s solos was so good, that I just refused to come back in forcing him to solo twice as long. The rest of the band is experienced enough to adapt. It felt great.
Afterwards, I left the stage as Bugsy Travels and the Ammo Boxes were going to play their set. Several folks approached me with compliments and bought CDs, and I joined Bill to sit back and enjoy the rest of the show. And what a show it was. The band was in their element in a pub. They rocked it out! My favorite was the Kings of Leon parody “This Cache is on Fire” and of course Oasis “Geocache Star”. Sitting there enjoying a beer in a pub in England with a great friend I don’t get to see often, reveling in the fact that I had accomplished a lifelong goal, and watching some new-found friends have a wonderful moment in the sun all made me realize there is a cloud above number 9. I was truly happy in the moment.
I was desperately tired though, and we had to get up early for a train back to London the next day, so I suggested to Bill that we hit the road. I interrupted the band long enough to say goodbye and grabbed my Martin. Bill asked if we could go up to the rooftop bar briefly and look at a mural up there of famous Mancunians. Yes, people from Manchester are Mancunians… a little better than Liverpudlians.
I figured I could stay on my feet long enough for that, so we went up and started trying to identify the faces in the mural. I was pretty good with the musicians (Morrisey, Galagher Bros. etc.), Bill knew the famous football players, and we recognized Alan Turing and a poet from our day of sightseeing. Some locals came up and asked us how many we got right, and before you knew it we were deeply engaged in conversation with them.
I mentioned before how friendly I thought Manchester was, and this is why. Suddenly we had a new group of friends and completely forgot about heading back to the hotel. They were very interested in hearing about our lives the US and we likewise were asking them everything about Manchester. Dave had slipped out for a bit to attend a swing dance event, and at one point I was trying to explain to the locals “Beach Music” which is something only people in the Carolinas know about and swing dance “the Shag” to. They thought the name of the dance was quite amusing but couldn’t quite get the idea of what qualified as Beach Music, when lo and behold, “You’re More Than a Number in My Little Red Book” by the Drifters came on. Everyone on the rooftop went nuts. They told me that it was currently the most popular song in Manchester, and I told them, “This is Beach Music!”. Wow. The evening just kept getting better and better.
Despite being invited to join them for Karaoke at another pub, we decided to head back to the hotel. Dave had re-joined us at this point, and we walked back. I thought it had been the perfect end to a perfect evening. I was wrong. The brilliant day in Manchester wasn’t done with us yet. When we got back to the hotel, the Belgians were arriving too. So instead of doing the sensible thing and going to bed we ordered pints and sat up until 2 in the morning talking with them. I do not regret our decision. This is when I really got to spend time getting to know them. They really are terrific folks. We talked about everything under the sun, raised a glass to our success and most importantly agreed that we’d perform together again someday if the opportunity ever arose.
We finally said our true goodbyes, wished each other safe travels and headed off to get a little sleep. My geocaching music adventure was over, but there was still one more chapter in this story.