Wednesday 21st March 2012
Today is our first day in Woodstock, New York state, which is about a twenty minute drive from Palenville where we are staying. We follow winding roads with dense pine forest on either side which lead into a typical American pastoral town with a broadway and white timbered square steepled church. Simone heads to the chiropractor while Simi takes us on the grand tour. Our first stop is a thrift store, heavy on tie dye and overpriced curios (a standard Alice Cooper CD mounted in a frame for $99!). I purchase a sepia print of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young circa 1970, Neil finger shooting the cameraman.
We head to a cafe called ‘The Garden Kitchen’. The heat of the day is intense and someone suggests an ice cream outside the church. Built in 1799 the church is now the Artists’ Museum but all hope of taking in the much publicised folk art is dashed – it’s shut on Wednesdays. We grab a coffee instead and sit on a bench out the front. Simi gets chatting to her friend Alison, who happens by in her car. As they talk a police man drives up and asks whether we have been smoking too close to the museum because the internal fire alarm has gone off. He seems a pleasant enough cop and we chat and laugh with him as he inspects the museum.
Simone comes to collect us and we visit Jessie’s childware shop. It is stuffed full of knitted characters and hand puppets, scarves and jerkins. We sit outside in the sun eating food and drinking root beer. Next to Jessie’s is a T-shirt shop selling Woodstock memorabilia, mainly Grateful Dead T-shirts in luminous tie dye. As we sit a man in his late fifties, skinny and shirtless, his dirty jeans hanging off his pelvic bones jumps across the shrubbery at the front of the shop. He jumps from kerb to kerb, swinging from a shop awning. He looks manically around the road before walking off hugging close to the picket fence of the T-Shirt shop. Simone looks at me wryly. ‘Welcome to Woodstock’. Directly opposite Jessie’s shop is a white building which was once Bob Dylan’s house but now houses some sort of photographic exhibition. A cut out of Nashville Skyline era Dylan pouts in the dark recess of one of the windows.
Walking back to the car we see a man on a mobility scooter, dirty looking with a great white beard that flows to his waist. ‘That’s Rocky’, Simi says anecdotally, ‘He’s one of Woodstock’s great characters. He used to dress up in high heels and lipstick and go by the name of Roxanne’. We head back home and rehearse more. We play a new version of ‘Helpless’ for Jessie and Pearl and we end the day with dinner and Simone thanking the great spirit for us visiting and sharing their home. Tomorrow we head for Canada for ‘Canada Music Week’.
Thursday 22nd March 2012
We get up early to try and make some miles on the road, heading up towards the Canada/US border. We move up through New York State, brown fields and tall pines for mile after mile. We drive through a town called Middleburgh, which I can only describe as a truly pretty American town with hacienda style porches and vacant rocking chairs sitting below American flags hanging limp in the morning sun. Up through Schoharie and Seneca Falls following onto Buffalo. We head across the border, stopping only briefly for the border control to scrutinise our faces. I am disappointed to find the immediate Canadian landscape exactly the same as the American hinterland we have just left behind; large mall outlets and manufacturing plants.
We eventually arrive in Toronto at around 3pm. It is a lovely clean city and we enter along the harbour road where people are running and cycling in the unseasonably hot day. It is like the city has come out in bloom just for us.
Toronto captures my heart with its brownstone buildings and fairy lights absolutely everywhere. The cafes and bars are full with people drinking and laughing. I feel like I am on holiday. There is a small town feeling about the place, as if we were not in a big city at all. The shops range from the vintage and thrifty to Hugo Boss and Prada. There does not seem to be a rundown area in the whole city as we go through Chinatown, Little Italy, the Greek Quarter and Korea Town. Our first stop is an instore at Sonic Boom which has to be one of the largest record shops in the world.
We are led ‘backstage’ into the stock room by Rob, a long haired and mild mannered member of staff. He’s sweating heavily and when I say that I am struggling with the heat, he rolls his eyes, ‘tell me about it, dude’. We’re cut from the same cloth. In the stock room there is Steaming Whistle beer, water and pizza waiting for us.
Arthur and me hang by the pizzas like good soldiers when there is a burst of activity in the corridor immediately leading off of the small room. A diminutive Martha Wainwright walks in along with assistants and a camera man. There’s barely enough room to swing a cat. Martha looks over at me and Art loitering by the pizza boxes and comes over. Effusively warm and welcoming she introduces herself. Pizza and chat with Martha reaching a natural conclusion I linger around the CD racks waiting for her set. She unassumingly comes on stage and plays one of the most captivating and beautiful solo shows I’ve ever witnessed…to around twenty people. It’s incredible.
I love hanging around Sonic Boom and the band that follow us (the Great Bloomers) are talkative guys, although we have difficulty establishing I live in England and not Toronto. They can’t quite get that I have travelled all that way for an instore.
Post show we walk around the immediate town. We meet Aurora’s friend Basia Bulat over lunch. Afterwards we head to Dine Alone Records HQ where we film two songs. The guys doing the filming and sound (Eason and JP) are really nice guys and put us at ease, despite the fact I am tired and a little grumpy by this point of the day. We finish around 9.30pm and head to legendary Pho Kung’s which is a Vietnamese restaurant everyone is raving about. It is shut so we settle for King’s Noodle Bar in Chinatown. The wonton soup with duck and dumplings is tasty.
Friday 23rd March 2012
I have a lazy start to the day and we spend the morning at Peter’s eating macaroni cheese and beef and talking about a range of topics from Canadian politics to the Royal Ontario Museum and the expensive shops in Yorkville. Myself and Arthur are itching to get out and see the city. We go to pick Simi and Simone up, who have stayed with a hairdressing friend of Simi’s. We spend most of the afternoon in a cafe, which is insanely hip and I have the strongest cappuccino I’ve had in a long time. I inform the barista that it’s the first coffee I’ve had in weeks, ‘Jesus man’, he replies, ‘do you need a cigarette after that?’