After years of performing live less frequently than Lord Lucan with Bigfoot on backing vocals, arco, encouraged by a very enjoyable show played in Barcelona last year with their new keyboard player, spent two weeks in September performing up and down the West Coast of America.
This is their story.
13 September - both kinds of music
First of many unfeasibly huge American breakfasts, this one in LA's Noho Diner. We pick up a Chevy Uplander from the hire shop and load it up, then hit the wrong side of the road for a 350 mile drive to Santa Cruz. If this were England the drive would have taken 2 days and we'd have driven off the end into the sea, but it's America, so we switch on the cruise control and all get in the back to watch the on board DVD player, climbing into the driving seat only when we need to change lanes or pull over for snacks, and arrive at the gig remarkably quickly.
In the event the gig is a quiet one. I'm approached afterwards by a clearly moved guy who says "I usually only listen to Death Metal, but you guys are inspiring". The Gentry are an amazing live band, and we all stay back after the show getting drunk and playing pool badly. Tudor is cornered at the bar by a very friendly woman who offers to show us a shortcut back to our motel, insisting on having Tudor in her car. She spends a lot of time telling each of us that it's ok, because she really doesn't want to have sex with us. Not that we’d asked…
14 September - I left my heart in the makeout room
Dodgy, jetlagged driving to San Francisco. Within seconds of getting behind the wheel for the first time, Chris finds himself trying to reverse-turn the van up a 1-in-6 hill into the path of a truck.
While Dave and Chris are in San Francisco’s Guitar Center getting the Strat rebuilt (lovely job, by the way. New pickup selector, cleaned up pots, and a complete intonation and action setup in a couple of hours for $120, or about £8 at today's exchange rates) a guy jumps into the passenger seat of the van next to Nick. A couple of "hey, f#ck offs!" later, and he gets out, looking confused and apologising.
A quick trip to the Golden Gate for tourist photos and it's off to the Make Out Room, in the Mission, for the gig. What a cool place: Elegantly shabby venue- red velvet stage curtains, mirror ball and tinsel, deer head with bras on its' antlers, Anchor Steam beer and awesome margaritas served in pints (I love this country!). Good gig, if a little jetlagged. Everybody in arco moved to the brink of tears of admiration and envy by Petracovich
http://www.petracovich.com/ who also turn out to be lovely, warm, friendly young ladies. Heather the cellist offers to show us around SF when we re-visit on the downhill leg of the tour, an offer that, sadly, we don't have time to take up. Headliners Potion http://www.potionmusic.com/ also turn out to be lovely people, who recommended the margaritas. Dave compliments the barkeep on the drinks; barkeep says "thanks for saying that while you've still got the power of speech"!
Our first Denny’s breakfast. Enough pancakes, already.
Day three and Dave becomes the first to drive on the left side of the road, as he pulls off highway 5 and onto a farm track... "You boys ain't from around here, are yeh?" (Sound of duelling banjos perceptible on the edge of hearing.)
Biggest monster truck yet spotted, doing 90 on the freeway.
Dave has to be ‘advised’ by Tudor not to buy a Stetson in an Arco gas station. Tudor's turn to DJ on the iPod in the van. Bit of an 80s theme, as it turns out.
Made it as far as Eugene, south of Portland. Found a posh room at a Best Western, and Dave, acting way out of type, spends time in the gym, the pool and the sauna. Spending hours a day in a car can do that to a person.
16 September - hopeless in Seattle
Tudor's super-smooth driving takes us to Seattle. We're warned that motel rooms will be hard to find due to football games, concerts and conferences, but we eventually find them, all of them, on Aurora.
Then we check out tomorrow's venue, the rainbow room, and see a pretty good band accidentally named after an Asian porno site (apparently) the name of which escapes me now, which is annoying on a number of levels. We have a good laugh in the bar with their friendly friends, and Dave discovers Black Butte, surely the best beer in America?
Back to the motel at about 3am. I think. Although it's all a bit vague.
17 September - Englishmen Abroad
We finally get to do a bit of tourism: Chris and Nick go to see the Huskies -vs- the Vandals, which I'm told is some kind of American Football game...Someone in the queue gives them free $40 tickets, which was cool - you Americans are *really* friendly. Chris phones Dave to tell him that 40 marching bands are on the pitch simultaneously, that's around 2000 musicians, playing Slade's "Cum On Feel The Noize". If he's trying to get Dave interested in football, he's going about it the right way.
Tudor and Dave spend the day 'doing' the Space Needle, which is excellent in that 1962, Disney meets the Jetsons kind of way that America excels at.
We phone the rainbow room to check on arrangements for this evening's gig to be told we're "totally headlining". In the event, we offer our slot to the marvellous Terrene http://www.terreneonline.com/.
Support chap Joshua Morrison http://profile.myspace.com/joshuamorrison is also excellent: Enchanting, acoustic guitar in a low D tuning tuned a full tone flat, i.e. low C: The strings are hanging off but the effect is fantastic. Very effective voice; kind of Mark Eitzel with better pitching.
Again, everyone is lovely and welcoming. Terrene insist on giving us their share of the door money, and despite the lack of punters we sell some T shirts and CDs from our newly organised merch box.
18 September – going retro in Moscow
Up quite early (for us). Hugely enjoyable breakfast in Denny's thanks to America's grumpiest waitress.
350 mile drive through mountainous countryside, which softens to dusty red hills as we approach Idaho.
Arrive in a deserted Moscow, Idaho at about 4pm. Half Twin Peaks, half cowboy town. The venue, the Retrofit Gallery, is a gallery in a row of shops (no bar, no lighting rig, etc.) and has a poster in the window which features Mr T (it's the A team connection again...) saying "I Pity the fool that don't come to this show" and which describes us as "UK pop".
We resort to sticking hand made flyposters up around the town centre and the nearby university campus, describing ourselves as "slowcore". Not really a US term... perhaps they'll come out just to find out what it means?
We go for a subdued Mexican meal outside, at the equivalent of a roadside kebab van. Nick eats something so fiery he literally has to run away in pain.
Back at the venue it's vocal p.a. only, but oddly enough we get probably the best sound so far. There's a comfortable little stage and a real piano. At 8:30 sharp the room fills with young students who sit on the floor, listen in attentive silence, applaud heartily, and then queue up to buy lots of CDs and T shirts. Before the set an extremely enthusiastic girl hands Chris a poem (a first), and says "are you arco? We're so glad you're here! We're really excited!" and after the set a group of students ask us to pose for photos with them. Turns out we've been plugged on local radio and around the campus by the nephew of Sarita from Pehr. Nice job, mate! The show opens with local singer/songwriter Milo Duke, who, oddly, is followed by some guy who goes up for ten minutes to tell the crowd why they should vote for him as city councillor, and we're followed by the incredible 76 Charger http://www.soundclick.com/bands/76charger, having swapped slots again when we saw their 6ft high bass rig and the singer told us they sound like "AC/DC on crack". They proceed to play short, tight, blistering punk at stomach-churning volume in an over-lit shop. Surreal, but cooler than a penguin's ice cube tray.
After the show we go to a local Jazz bar with the promoters Brad (Trucker cap) and James (BIG trucker cap) and talk music and politics until 2am over enormous JD & Cokes. (Mmmmmm)
19 September - down the pan
Up at nine. Lame timekeeping and navigation gets us to Portland at 7pm. Artists' rates at the lovely Mark Spencer hotel (joke for English readers: If your room's the wrong size, you can take it back...) The lovely receptionists tip us off that bands usually chill out post-gig on the roof terrace. We give them a CD, and there's a note in reception when we check out saying "Marcy from the front desk listened to your CD and thinks you guys are great" : ) We love you too, Marcy ; )
We don't exactly fill it, but Berbati's Pan is great -- great sound, excellent food, and we get to practice our improvisation (not that you can practice improvisation), as Dave snaps a string and heads offstage to change it, and Tudor's laptop crashes twice -- it may have looked as if he was playing his laptop's keyboard, mid-song, but he was entering passwords. Or maybe playing tetris. He had his Derek Smalls moment, frantically trying to get the laptop working all the way through "Diary", and just managing to blast out the final chord.
Soundman Dave is a god, incidentally.
20 September - white line fever
We drive south from Portland and make it as far as Woodland, just north of San Francisco. Play shuffleboard in a local bar for local people.
Enough driving, already.
21 September - are we there yet?
Into San Francisco again, this time as tourists. Early lunch on Fisherman's wharf, accompanied by honking sea lions. Bit of tourist shopping, then to a museum of player pianos and amusement machines, which is more fun than it sounds.
We drive out of San Francisco through Golden Gate Park, then on to the famous Route One coast road. It gets dark as we hit Big Sur, but we figure we need to be further south. There are differences of opinion on how to negotiate downhill hairpins in the dark.
Cabin fever setting in.
Really, enough with the driving.
Our map shows a place called Harmony by the end of Route One, so we aim for that with a view to staying there for the night. A nine o'clock, we pull off, and see the road sign: "Harmony, Pop. 18". And that's how it looks.
Drive on to Morro Bay and despite the motel manager's assurances that everything is closed we find a tiny microbrewery pub in town at about 9:30 which is just about the only thing open. Great beer, and the best food of the trip, which they knock up for us even though the kitchen is technically shut. We are so moved by this gesture (and the beer) we buy T-shirts and tell the guy we love him very much and he's our new best mate. Which he is.
Dave beats Nick at darts. Which is nice. For Dave.
22 September - boys in the hood
Chris wakes Dave up with the news that Nick has gone down the beach road in the van, and in swinging wide for a U-turn has stuck the front wheels in the sand, and the proposed U-turn has gone not left but down. It takes a couple of goes, but he digs himself out, while Chris and Dave are running down the road with doormats from outside the rooms to put under the van's wheels, and an irate motel owner is running after Chris and Dave...
The van retrieved and doormats returned, we drive to the bizarre Danish settlement of Solvang:
...and then on to LA to check in at the Pehr office, which impressively is on Sunset Boulevard with a view of the Hollywood sign. Emotional reunion with Adam & Darren, without whom, etc etc.
Then down to the venue, the Echo Room.It seems for a while like no one is going to come, but it turns out that they're waiting for their security guys (it's a lively part of town) before they let the line in. Suddenly got lots of attentive punters, including a hardcore sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Friends are even in from England, including Dave's friend Jo, and arco's original bassoon player Jeremy Crump and his good lady.
We play one of the best sets of the tour, we think, buoyed up by the reception from the crowd.
The band after us, a string quartet, plays music by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. They had the name check in the Los Angeles Times today. Adelaide, who follow, are more our type of band.
After the gig we play American football in the street outside Adam's apartment at about 2am, then stay at Darren's again so that Tudor can re-acquaint himself with the cats.
23 September - dub stylee
Decamp to Santa Monica to get out of Darren's hair and to spend a couple of days winding down on the beach.
Drive back to LA in the evening to do the radio session with John @ Dublab, which is very nice, and involves lots of nice borrowed instruments including an autoharp.
Finish the night, and the tour, on the beach next to Santa Monica pier with a bottle of wine. Turns out that may be illegal in California, but that's just the kind of rock'n'roll rebels we are.
This account borrows wholesale from the tour diary written on the road by arco, especially the next 4 paragraphs, which is Nick's.
And very nice they are too.
Photography by Dave and Tudor. Songs by Chris.
Thanks beyond words to Adam and Darren and all at Pehr for a wonderful tour.
Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are still in shock. Moscow, Idaho, was already in shock.
Thanks to the great bands we met: to The Gentry and 76 Charger, for rocking our brains out; to House On A Hill and Helen Stellar, for more restrained rocking; to Terrene and Adelaide, for shimmering beautifully; to Potion, Escape from Keyboard Island and The Section Quartet, for unexpected sounds; to Milo, for relaxing strums; to Josh Morrison, for blissing us out.
To Petracovich, for taking us places we didn't know existed.
Thanks also to John @ Dublab Radio, to everyone who bought CDs and T-shirts, and to whoever thoughtfully provided so many "arco" gas stations.
Dave would like to thank Vanessa for letting him go. And letting him come back.