Well, it’s finally getting on toward summer and Foghorn has just returned from a month long tour in Europe. Since we hit the ground running when we got home, it’s taken a few weeks to get our Europe stories up on the website. We had a great time traveling and playing music all over Ireland & the UK, Switzerland and France. Needless to say, after playing 23 shows in 30 days, and traveling through 6 countries, there are many stories to tell about all the places we’ve been, & people we’ve met.
May 1. We began in Northern Ireland with a house concert at the Red Room in Cookstown, and I must say, the concert and the warm crowd revived us after a very long trip from Portland. Not to mention the pocheen libations. I thought it was funny that after hearing from Caleb and Sammy about festival contracts that forbid performers to imbibe this Irish homebrew before sets, and the warnings to tourists in my dad’s guidebook, it seemed perfect in a way that within the first hour of being in Ireland, we found ourselves raising glasses of pocheen! I will venture that the brewer of this particular pocheen knows his business. It wasn’t no fiery moonshine! It should be mentioned right away that Foghorn had an honorary road manager on our Europe tour 2012: my dad, Norm. Yes, he was brave enough to trail us through Europe, enduring long car rides, late nights, Guinness and Irish whiskey drinking, unpredictable sleeping accommodations, gorgeous scenery, fantastic people, all the while loyally watching our gigs night after night. We tried to dig into the expansive Foghorn repertoire to keep things fresh for our nightly fan. Hope Dad had a great time! We sure enjoyed his company on the tour.
May 2. Today we were able to do a little sightseeing and checked out the Giant’s Causeway: beautiful coastal columnar basalt formations that step down into the sea. We followed that up with a tour of the Bushmills Distillery, where we learned a few things about the process of whiskey making. After purchasing our souvenir personalized labeled bottle of 12-year reserve, (only available at the distillery), we were quite disappointed a few days later while admiring it, to find that the distillery had misspelled our label! It went from Caleb’s clear block-lettering, reading: The Foghorn Stringband and Norm Willms, to reading: The Foghorn Strinband and Norm Willms! You’d think if they were going to misspell something, it would have been my dad’s uncommon last name, not stringband… anyway. Shame on them. Caleb was so mad, that he later threw that bottle away… of course not until after we had consumed every drop of that 12-year reserve! We played that night at McCann’s Bar in Omagh, and I will say I was impressed with the showing from the locals on a weeknight. They were a rowdy crowd! My dad did his share of chatting up the locals and selling them our new CD.
May 3. Today we drove to Manorhamilton, a quaint little town where we played at the Glens Center, a church-turned-arts-center. After the show, the savvy Anna, coordinator for the Glens, ushered us out on the town. We stopped in at Connelly’s for one drink, or so we thought, but didn’t end up leaving there until nearly 4 in the morning! It was magic being in that tiny pub that probably hasn’t changed a bit in the 40 years that the married couple has been in business there. A coal fire and unaccompanied singing warmed our hearts. Mr. Connelly’s voice cut clear and full as he sang Irish ballads and old country songs. We traded a few songs ourselves and even discovered that my dad had some songs in common with Mr. Connelly. Mrs. Connelly mouthed every word, though she never made a sound.
May 4 & 5. We headed for Dublin first and then Galway, sharing the bill both nights with I Draw Slow, a band that plays and sings gorgeous songs. The Grand Social was the venue in Dublin, and then the tiny, but cozy upstairs of the Crane Bar in Galway. We were hosted by I Draw Slow in Dublin, and I experienced my first full Irish breakfast. Holy! They really do it up: two or three kinds of meat, eggs, toast, coffee and tea. After eating such a large breakfast, the coffee is a necessary digestive.
May 6 & 7 & 8. From Galway we bid farewell to I Draw Slow, and went on to Dingle for their May festival, Feile Na Bealthine. What a beautiful town it was, out on a mountainous peninsula and right on the water. Our trip there wasn’t uneventful. Now something must be mentioned here about Irish roads: The farther you go, the narrower and curvier they get. Not only that, but they have tall hedges growing up and over old stonewalls making for zero visibility. Their two lane roads are smaller than one of our highway lanes, and yet, the Irish act like it ain’t no thing and they take your breath away as they squeak by at speed. It seems like there is not enough space, and yet, somehow there is. Like Caleb always says, “when it looks like it won’t fit, it still fits”. Well, after driving around the gorgeous rocky coastline on one of these impossibly winding narrow roads, Sammy found himself face to face with a humongous tour bus. (OMG Sammy!) At the last minute he swerved to give it more space and our van tires were instantly sucked right into the boggy ditch, (and the answer to Grover’s question, “what does it look like when it doesn’t fit?” Caleb always answers: “not good”), leaving the differential resting on the pavement. The Irish are a friendly bunch and it only took about two minutes before 4 or 5 passersby were offering assistance. One young lad came along and after unsuccessfully trying to pull us out with the only thin rope we had, he drove back to the nearest town, commandeered a beefier rope from a fisherman, and then drove back and pulled us out! What a guy! We had to stop traffic on the road for a few minutes in the process creating quite a spectacle! He wouldn’t accept any money for his troubles, so we gave him some Foghorn albums… hopefully he likes them!
When we finally arrived in Dingle, we found an unofficial residency for the next couple of days at Tommy Sullivan’s Courthouse pub. We had two gigs at the festival, and both were grand. Much needed rest followed with a day off, when we were generously hosted by our new friend Bernie, a Dingle native. She put us up at her family home in a beautiful village outside of Dingle. We took a sunset stroll up a stony hill bathed in orange light with a view of the ocean. What followed was a good home cooked meal with a peat & coal fire to keep us warm. We all slept in the next morning, except for dad, who is an early riser, but it was worthwhile as he had a memorable morning walk and chat with a sheep farmer up the road. Dad, (and the rest of us), are learning to navigate the Irish accent by now. And later, Nadine got to realize her longtime dream of cuddling a baby lamb… a welcome relief after seeing and longing after thousands of them in the fields as we sped by in our car, all of them paddocked behind beautifully dry-stacked stone walls.
May 9. We headed down the road to Kilworth where we played music for a bunch of folks in a glorious old stone church-turned-arts center. The crowd was friendly, and at the break, two ladies served tea and biscuits to all. These gigs are always nice interspersed with bar gigs and festivals. Sometimes it’s fun to be rowdy and loud, and yet, these sit down concerts give us a chance to play some material we wouldn’t play in a noisy bar. That night, we pressed on after the show to Baltimore in the very south of Ireland. We were too excited to wait till morning to arrive at the Fiddle Fair. And with good reason, for when we arrived at about two in the morning, we were properly greeted by the entire McCarthy clan with pints of Guinness all around.
May 10-14. Declan McCarthy is the curator of the Fiddle Fair, a 20-year and running festival in Baltimore featuring many amazing musicians in a weekend of concerts & workshops. This is the place where Ireland and Foghorn fell in love. About 10 years ago, Foghorn was invited to play at the Fiddle Fair, and I guess their arrival and the days that followed were memorable for both Foghorn and the Irish because many stories from the past were fondly recalled. They’ve been back many times now, and I’ve a feeling each time has been remarkable in its own way. I think Foghorn may have previously earned a reputation as the all-night-long crowd, as we ended up hosting parties at our house each night. We played Friday night in the big concert. Saturday we couldn’t resist a good outdoor session in the square, as it was a rare sunny day in Baltimore. And Sunday we were honored to be featured in the Mystery All Star band among a stellar lineup of musicians. It was lovely to be in one place for a few days, and we enjoyed some good long walks along the scenic rugged coast. Monday was a day off and we wound down and rested up in Baltimore that day. We were let down easy with a gorgeous dinner and some last tunes with the whole McCarthy clan.
May 15 & 16. It was a sad day leaving Ireland. The Irish are so warm and funny, and they really love and appreciate music. We drove and ferried from Baltimore to Wales, staying that night with friends Jacque and Vera and their cute young uns. And a delicate lemon tart followed the amazing stew we ate that night!! Yum! I will not attempt to spell the name of their town… Welsh is a crazy looking language with many consonants. We drove the next day to Liverpool, home of the Beatles, and our friends the Southerns, who generously hosted us, not once, but twice during our tour of England! We arrived in the afternoon, and went to the BBC downtown for a radio interview. I hope I never get over the thrill of playing live on the radio. After that we had a chance to sample some local cask ales at a nearby pub. Our show that night was at a café bar called Mello Mello. And there was a lot of dancing and clapping and I realized that Liverpool is a music-loving town. Good folks. Barry Southern sat in with us for the second set on banjo, and I thought that smile would stick on his face forever.
May 17. On our way to play in Pembroke, which is down on the scenic southern coast of Wales, we were driving along through gorgeous rolling green hills, and the roads got narrower and narrower, reminiscent of the tiny windy roads of Ireland. We were already late, as we had underestimated our travel time. As it was, if we went straight to the gig, we’d be just in time to walk on stage and start playing. So of course, instead, we got a flat tire. (Lookout Caleb!) Yes, Caleb hugged the hillside to avoid an oncoming car on that tiny road, and rammed the front tire right into a sharp tree root sticking out from the hillside. (Once again when it doesn’t fit… not good) Normally, a quick tire change would hardly have taken 10 minutes, but disappointingly, we realized that the spare had five holes for lugs, and the axel had six lugs. Damn car rental company! After two separate hitchhikes by Caleb and Nadine, who, very understandably, got lost trying to find the little chapel where we were meant to play, we were able to get help on its way. The faithful Jackie, our host and the booker for the chapel, kept the audience patiently waiting. Finally a van was sent back to pick us up. I think the gracious audience must have waited an hour for us to arrive, but we walked right in and started playing music. We were kindly told we were worth the wait.
May 18-21. We drove to London to play that night at the Mason’s Arms, a spacious old pub. It was a rowdy show, and part way through, an impromptu square dance occurred. We were hosted that night and the next by Charlie Hardy, who booked the UK portion of our tour. The next morning, before we left London, we found ourselves in the Snake Pit, a little radio station that broadcasts from a backyard shed with interior walls decorated with real snakeskins! Charlie met us the following day in Cromer, a charming coastal town in the east of England, to host a lovely concert at the old grange hall. Next day we drove to Aylsbury, north of London, and played a concert to an attentive but small audience in an old barn called the Three Horseshoes. The following day we returned to Liverpool for another dose of the Liverpool enthusiasm, and another dose of the Southern family. We played at the Caledonia and it was a packed house. Barry Southern sat in with us for our second set again and we all had a grand old time, retiring to the Southerns’ for a late night of playing more tunes and visiting. Even my dad played along, gracing us by singing his selection of Merle Haggard songs.
May 22 & 23. Liverpool to Edinburgh was a bit of a drive, but once we got off the freeway, we could really take in the countryside! Edinburgh was a beautiful place, full of huge old buildings with loads of chimneys coming out the top, and a castle overlooking the city. It was really a tease to only be there for a night, but we played a great house concert in an old grocery-turned-modern-home on the edge of the hills in Edinburgh. After the concert out came the scotch whiskey and I got to keep my promise that I was going to drink scotch in Scotland. Our hosts had about 8 different bottles from different regions of Scotland and all of them were quite different from one another and very good. The more we drank the better they were! Eamonn Coyne, fabulous Irish tenor banjo player, hosted us that night in the nearby village of Rosslyn, where in the morning we took a stroll to the Rosslyn Chapel, alleged home at one time of the Holy Grail. Our drive that day was a long one. 7 hours back to London. We stayed in an airport hotel, and my dad took us out to dinner for a celebratory farewell as we would all part ways the next day. Pa was homeward bound and the band was bound for Geneva, Switzerland. (Just like 007)
May 24-29. We were in and around Geneva this whole week and stayed with our new friends Leonard, Dunya, and Robin. They generously hosted us in their huge old Swiss farmhouse in the countryside southeast of Geneva. The day we flew in, we were picked up by our friend Francois and incidentally made a short stop at the International Labor Organization to switch cars, but it was an interesting stop because there was a global forum taking place to discuss and problem-solve the rising worldwide youth unemployment issue of today. Good work. We had a much needed long walk from there into the city (past the United Nations with all its colorful flags) along beautiful Lake Geneva and ended up at La Bibarium where we would play that night, a tiny wine bar with the best espresso in Europe. We got our first taste of Swiss hospitality there as the bartender unabashedly kept our glasses full, and the bar owner cooked us a delicious gourmet meal before the show. To boot, he paid us well at the end of the night and sent us home with a box of delicious local wine. This only set the tone for the rest of the week in Geneva. I guess it’s customary there to treat musicians like kings and queens. The following night our show was in Nyon about 20 km to the north where we played at La Parentheses, located in none other than Julius Caesar’s 2,000 year old wine cellar. Pretty cool I guess! But not before we were wined and dined at a nice restaurant on the lakeshore, and later put up in a hotel, compliments of the bar. And it must be noted that we drank, showered, & shaved, and yes, flushed the toilet… with Evian water. Their tap water comes from the same source as Evian bottled drinking water.
Next day we played at a blues festival, complete with a smoke machine and flashing lights, in Crissier; a last minute gig that filled in our afternoon before we headed back into Geneva to play at a small bar called La Cabinet. Sunday was a sunny day at Bain de Paquis, a cool old community bathhouse situated on a jetty in the lake. There is a beach on one side, and swimming pools, a sauna, and a restaurant and bar on the other side. We sat and played a few hours from noon on, and watched the parade of humans, all shapes, sizes, and ages, walk by in all manner of swimming attire. Monday was a national holiday so our hosts put on a BBQ at home and we had a day of rest. Our last gig of the tour was in Voltaire, France, just across the border, at, you guessed it, Paddy’s Irish Pub. Ha! Now ain’t that French!
Looking back on the tour, it’s remarkable how many different places and countries we saw, and how many folks we met and connected with. Music, especially traditional music has a way of reaching people and bringing them (and us!) joy. We are thankful to know all the folks who hosted and fed us along the way, and made sure we got from one place to the next. They didn’t really help us get to bed early though! Here’s to a great summer ahead! And to our new album: Outshine the Sun!