Sadie and the Hotheads blog
It was my third trip to The Convent, the unique new music venue and boutique hotel, nestling in the hills of South Woodchester, Gloucs.
Last year I was invited to a wonderful concert in the Chapel by Martin and Eliza Carthy, had dinner with our host Matt Roberts, my friend Jack Henderson and Martin and Eliza. What a thrill it was to hear Martin talk about his life in music, eat a fabulous meal and drink fine wine. After the gig we sat in the garden around an open fire and drank malt whisky.
Then, a couple of months ago we performed here ourselves, as The Nelson Brothers, featuring songs from ‘Hometown’ and ‘Places In The Heart’ and previewing songs from our new album ‘Sacred Heart’ due out in October on Convent Records.
Today we are here with Sadie to meet with Matt and Ian, discuss plans for recording and live appearances and just to have a look around and hang out.
Matt’s hospitality is second to none. Having arrived into Stroud on the 9.35 from Paddington we were collected at the station and driven out here, greeted by Matt in the car park and ushered into the lounge for tea/coffee before a guided tour of the building.
There’s always something new to see here, something going on. New renovations, new ideas, new beginnings. Sadie loved it. The setting, the ambience, the music piped through from the Convent’s own radio station, Matt’s vision and enthusiasm, his love of live music and respect for the musicians and songwriters he supports.
In the control room we meet legend Alan Clayton, here putting the finishing touches to the next Dirty Strangers album, and a fine gent he is. We listen to a couple of rockers from their new collection, then adjourn to the Chapel for a photo shoot, before returning to the lounge for lunch and more conversation.
We ate, drank, talked and laughed, made plans for the autumn, said our farewells in the car park and headed back to the station for the rocking, rolling ride back to London.
Can’t wait to come back….
And so to the final show. And the big one. This is being filmed by CPBN/PBS. They will be shooting the live performance for broadcast to the nation in 2015.
After a lazy morning around the hotel we gather in the lobby to make the short walk to the venue.
And what a beautiful place it is, with pristine acoustics and a world-class sound system, the hall has two levels: the Orchestra Level seats 400 in traditional theatre style while the Mezzanine Level seats another 100.
The film crew hover as we sound check, photographs are snapped, Blakey and the crew push buttons and slide faders.
After sound check we retire to the luxurious Green Room where a variety of hot food has been laid on. It's wonderful to be treated so well and we're all excited about tonight's show.
Rumour has it that Duke Robillard is going to turn up and jam with us on 'Blues in D (in E)...
And he does!
We take to the stage to thunderous applause and vamp on 'One Thing...' as the girls sashay on. The audience are fantastic, the band tight and, as usual, Blakey is doing a marvellous job at the desk. It's been a real joy working with him.
The set flies by. We finish with 'Feel It' and leave the stage to a standing ovation.
Back on for the encore we ease into 'Use It Up' which smoulders and builds to its thrilling climax.
Sadie then announces our special guest and the crowd go wild. The Duke saunters on and plugs in as we pick the opening chords to 'Blues In D' (now in E). It's a fourteen bar blues featuring solos from everyone in the band, each received rapturously. Sadie, Dani and I sing a verse each, Simon, Barry, Duke, Ron and Terl do their thing and we slide into the final verse and out in double time, leaving the audience yelling for more.
Then it's back to the Green Room for drinks, banter, story telling and laughter, before we adjourn to the bar for a nightcap or two.
It's been a wonderful tour. Thank you to everyone involved. Sad to say goodbye to Barry Walsh... till the next time.
A relaxed morning around the hotel while Barry Mead drove a few of the crew to an outlet store in search of cheap designer gear.
The sky is blue. Looks like a summer day from the warmth of my room. Watching the cars zip along the freeway. The low hum of traffic. American flags fluttering in the breeze.
Left for Pawtucket at 1pm for the penultimate gig of our mini tour. A two hour drive to Rhode Island. Country roads, woods, a dusting of snow glistening in the bright sunlight, country music on the radio.
Tonight's venue is a real rock 'n roll joint. Murals of Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin adorn the bare brick walls. Our hosts Frank and Sarah greet us warmly and show us to the dressing rooms where organic food, wine and an assortment of teas are laid out for a late lunch.
For the acoustic guitar mad among you Sadie's loan guitar tonight is a beautiful five thousand dollar Taylor. I want to take it home!
Set up and sound check over we retire backstage and chill out for a while. Wine, laughter, and more wine.
There's a surprise in store tonight when the opening act turns up and it's legendary blues guitarist Duke Robillard.
Co-founder of 'Roomful of Blues' with pianist Al Copley in 1967, Duke was also a member of 'The Fabulous Thunderbirds' and has recorded with artists such as Jimmy Witherspoon, Pinetop Perkins, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.
And what a lovely man he is, coming up to us after the show full of genuine enthusiasm for our songs and performance.
After the encore and the meet and greet session we head off into the night. It's a late one and we get lost leaving Pawtucket, arriving back at the hotel at 1.30am!
Next up, our final gig. This one is being filmed by PBS for broadcast in 2015. The venue is a two minute walk from the hotel so a relaxed morning, no travelling, and a few post tour drinks afterwards!
Thursday was a day off. We picked up our rental cars after breakfast and drove back to Hartford via the Massachussets Turnpike.
Snow, snow, falling snow...
Checked in to the Marriott Hotel downtown and caught a bus out to Westfarms shopping mall. It was predictably soulless, like shopping malls everywhere. We could have been in Westfields, London.
We are staying at the Marriott for the rest of the tour as the remaining gigs are close by. Today we have a forty mile drive to the Infinity Hall in Norfolk.
10am. Sitting in Starbucks with Sadie and a lady comes over and says, "I hope you don't mind me saying but you look just like Marianne (!) McGovern from Downton Abbey. You could be a film star!" We all smile, say nothing, and she leaves.
1pm and we're loaded up and ready for off. Once we leave Hartford behind it's a beautiful drive through rural Connecticut. Blue sky. Snow.
Tumbling rivers. Birches and pines.
Em route we listened to Barry Walsh's beautiful new album 'Silencio', it's musical landscapes complementing the mood of the drive perfectly. It's a lovely, evocative album. Check it out.
The Infinity Hall is a beautiful old wood structure, constructed in 1883 and originally functioning as a combination opera house, barber shop and saloon.
Known as the Norfolk Opera House it hosted vaudeville and theatrical presentations until the late 1940s. Mark Twain once performed here!
For the following four decades it was used as a restaurant and a grocery store, closed in 1994 and remained vacant for four years until it's restoration in 1998.
Tonight was our best gig so far, a lovely audience and the band are beginning to cook. We had a laugh, the audience laughed with us, the crew and management looked after us splendidly. We had fans who drove up from New York City, fans who made the long trek from Georgia and a couple who flew up from Louisiana!
Thank you guys for making the journeys and supporting us on ours...
After the gig we drove home through the dark winter night listening to an advance copy of Gretchen Peters fabulous new album 'Blackbirds', due in February. Can't wait.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island up next.
After an early breakfast at Chick And Ruth's Delly in downtown Annapolis and a drive to Baltimore, we're on the train heading back up the east coast to New York where we change at Penn Station for the state capital, Albany. Good weather so far.
Sadie and Dani are stretched out sleeping, Barry tour managing on his laptop while the rest of us read, snooze or stare out of the window at the changing landscape, the beautiful Maryland coastline giving way to a more urban/industrial scene as we roll north.
Pulling in to Philadelphia at 11.13am. The train is running right on time. Good news as we're on a very tight schedule today, due in to Albany just in time for sound check.
Loving these trains. They have reclining seats, footrests and plenty of leg room.
12.08. Flying through New Jersey. And it's snowing! We're heading a lot further north. It's gonna be cold.
1.00pm. Sitting on the train in NY ready for the last leg of today's journey. Should be a pretty ride up through the State.
We're rolling up the Hudson River through Woodstock and Saugerties where Dylan and The Band recorded the Basement Tapes in the late sixties, in the house they called Big Pink. A misty, murky day but beautiful countryside. The Catskill Mountains off in the distance.
Should be in Albany by 3.45, then heading straight to sound check.
3.45 and the train has stopped. We're running late! It's gonna be a scramble to get ready for show time.
Arrived forty minutes late and it's snowing. Heavily.
Our driver is waiting and we dash through the snow - in a bus, not a one horse open sleigh! The stage manager and crew are ready for us. Tonight we are performing in the Lewis A Swyer Theatre, which is part of The Egg, the unusually shaped, iconic building located in the northeast corner of the Empire Plaza.
The Egg is slightly inclined, and has a small pedestal on which it appears to sit. In fact, the building is supported by a stem that goes down six stories into the Plaza. Attached to this stem is a concrete girdle that surrounds The Egg, enabling it to retain its shape and transmitting its weight to the pedestal.
The stage manager informs us "there are no corners in this building".
We are well provided for. Delicious hot and cold food, sandwiches, salads, snacks, wine, beer. However this tour is not all about eating and drinking. Tonight we have our work cut out and we set to. By the time we're set up we have about twenty minutes for sound check, run a couple of numbers, then chill out for an hour before curtain call. Time for the girls to apply make-up and the boys to have a "little comfort drink" (Terl).
Then we're on. The crowd have braved the weather and we get a great reception. It's a beautiful theatre and Blakey has done a marvellous job on the desk. The sound is fabulous and an hour and ten later we leave the stage with big grins on our faces.
Back to the dressing room, a quick change, then out into the snowy night to find a bar!
Heavy rain. Breakfast. Waffles and maple syrup, eggs over easy, rye toast and fried potatoes, coffee, tea. Simon, Danica and I warming up after the cold, wet walk from the hotel.
Barry and Blakey are off to the venue for load in. We're back in the hotel waiting for the call to say they're ready for us. It will be a long full band rehearsal today before our first ever gig this side of the pond.
Rehearsal from 11.00 till 2.30 then a break for lunch in the restaurant. Copperhead ale and shepherds pie for me. A short stroll back to the hotel for a chill out then we'll be heading back to the venue for an 8pm start.....
And so one thing led to another. The lights went down and we made our way on stage to cheers and applause. Terl counted us in and we vamped the opening chords as the girls appeared and the room went wild.
We played all the recent favourites, a few we hadn't performed before, including 'Fly Away', 'The Escape' and 'Feel It' plus a couple of oldies: 'Jealous Heart' and 'Small Tasks'.
Sixteen songs, an hour and a quarter, 'Use It Up' as an encore and we left them wanting more. A great opening night in a fabulous venue in a beautiful town.
Post gig wine and food and a stroll back to the hotel for an early night.
Barry Mead is keeping us on our toes. Everything is planned in intricate detail. Tomorrow's travel plans are in place as it's going to be very tight. We're leaving here at 8am, driving to Baltimore, catching the train to New York, changing for Albany in upstate NY, where we are due to arrive just in time for sound check. And snow is forecast!
Hope we make it.
After a short hop from Hartford and a change of trains in New Haven we rolled down the eastern seaboard on the Amtrak Express via Bridgeport, Stamford and New Rochelle, into New York City's Penn Station, then on through New Jersey to Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore.
Our bus and driver were waiting and we headed out to the airport to pick up honorary Hothead Barry Walsh who had flown in from Memphis.
A one hour drive to downtown Annapolis found us checking in to the historic Governor Calvert House and within half an hour Terl and Ron arrived, having flown in to Washington Dulles where they were picked up by our sound engineer and production manager Graham 'Blakey' Blake, who had himself flown in from Moscow via London. A sound man he is too and we're all looking forward to working with him again.
After all the hard travelling we gathered for a vocal rehearsal in Sadie's room before tumbling out into the frosty Annapolis night. The beautiful old colonial streets twinkled with Christmas lights, glittering shop windows beckoned, but we had only one thing on our minds.
Food and wine!
We ate and drank at Buddy's where crab and ribs are the speciality. Danica tried the crawfish, which she hated, Sadie had the gumbo and we all sang Hank Williams 'Jambalaya':
"Jambalaya and a crawfish pie, fillet gumbo"
After dinner and a brisk walk back to the hotel Blakey, Terl, Ron and I nipped in to the pub next door for a nightcap. Big day coming up. A six hour rehearsal/ sound check then we're on stage for our first ever American gig! I'll let you know how it went.
Sadie, Simon, Danica, Barry and I are spending the first couple of nights at the Avon Old Farms Hotel overlooking Talcott Mountain woods in the historic Farmington Valley. It's a classic Connecticut hotel set in beautifully manicured grounds.
After breakfast Simon and I decide to head out for a walk. It's not the first time we've done this - stepped out for a stroll in a small American town where nobody walks anywhere. Sidewalks fade into oblivion, walk signs flash just long enough for you to get halfway across the six lane and drivers look at you like you're from another planet.
We make it down Route 44 into Old Avon Village but it's Sunday and all the shops are closed. It's icy cold too and there's plenty of evidence of recent snowfall but the fresh air is wonderful and helps to blow away the jet lag.
Back at the hotel we brunch at 11, rehearse for a couple of hours in Sadie's suite, chill out for an hour, shower and spruce up for this evening's party ....
Tonight's 'Celebrity' party at the magnificent home of our wonderful hosts Arnold and Sandra Chase was one of the most incredible nights of our lives.
This evening's celebrity guest was, of course, Sadie/Elizabeth/Lady Cora.
We tumbled out of our limo into the frosty Connecticut air and marvelled at the magnificent house and grounds that stand high on Avon Mountain overlooking Hartford.
Arnold's father is a Holocaust survivor. He left Europe with five dollars in his pocket and arrived in America with just a quarter. He built an empire in communication which Arnold has expanded. Their story is remarkable.
Everything about this evening was remarkable too. Along with the many high-powered and influential guests from the worlds of music, PBS TV and radio, we were treated lavishly and warmly by our lovely hosts.
We drank champagne and mingled, we ate canapés, we chatted and laughed and drank some more. We wandered around the splendid house and gathered in the theatre where Arnold told everyone of his love for the band and our music. On a large high def screen he showed the video for 'Everybody's Got A Song' and told us how his experience in radio and TV had taught him to recognise a hit song and that, in his opinion, this was a hit waiting to happen.
Elizabeth was introduced, made a lovely 'speech' about her childhood memories of PBS (who will be filming our show in Hartford next week and broadcasting it across the USA next year) and answered questions about the band, Downton, and her life in England.
We were then ushered in to the dining room where a fabulous buffet was served up to one and all. More eating, drinking, chatting and laughter. Stories told, experiences shared.
All of this was extraordinary .... but the best was yet to come.
Arnold has a basement room the size of a football pitch which contains his vast collection of Orchestrions. He has another full of antique pinball machines, but it was the 'Music Machine Room' which blew us all away.
An Orchestrion is a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band. Familiar to all as the sound of fairground carousels, they are operated by means of a large pinned cylinder or music roll, the sound being produced by pipes and percussion instruments. Some also contain a piano.
Arnold has been a collector for many years. We marvel at the magnificent machines, some small, some large, the centrepiece standing about twenty feet high.
It is in front of this stunning work of art that Arnold delivers his pièce de resistance.
He has had a composer from Brussels arrange and programme in versions of 'Everybody's Got A Song' and 'Look Now' from 'Still Waiting'. It is truly mind blowing. We are completely spellbound as the sound of our music comes tumbling out of this vast machine. Carnival time in Connecticut.....
And after it was over we scrambled back into the limo, looked at each other and asked if it had all been a dream. The buzz we got from this will stay with us forever. Words don't do it justice. I tried but you really had to be there. Look out for the video!
Thank you Arnold, Sandra and PBS for a truly memorable evening.
First of all I'd like to thank the wonderful crew on Virgin Atlantic for allowing my bouzouki and banjo on board and storing them safely in a closet! And a huge thank you from all of us to our wonderful tour manager, Barry Mead, for making it all happen. So far, so good.
After the seven hour transatlantic flight we touched down in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in the pouring rain. An hour or so later we were through security without a hitch and settled in our 'bus' for the two hour drive to Hartford and the first of our hotels.
As we pulled out of the parking lot Barry gazed out of the window and said "American Rain". "Good title for a song", I replied.
Sliding down the turnpike to the Interstate Highway put me in mind of another song: James Taylor's 'Sweet Baby James', especially the opening lines of verse two: "The first of December was covered with snow and so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston."
Not snow in our case but hard rain, teeming down as we careered along the slick highway into the deep, dark American night.
"There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway, a song that they sing when they take to the sea, a song that they sing of their home in the sky, maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep......
but singing works just fine for me. "
Rock on James.
There has been a lot of activity in recent weeks. As well as shooting a video for our first Christmas single, The Little Drummer Boy, and rehearsing for our forthcoming mini tour of the US, we have been out and about promoting the White Christmas and Christmas At Downton Abbey CD’s out now on Warner Music.
The video was shot in the east end of London, written and directed by the marvellous Harry Chapman (husband to our lovely Danica). We’re hoping you all enjoy our ‘Sadie’ approach to theis much covered song. As well as being available as a single it also features on the White Christmas compilation alongside The Pogues, Frank Sinatra, Kate Bush etc;
Rehearsals for the tour have been intense. We’ve been missing Danica (who has been back home to Australia) and Nick (away on his annual panto gig in Harrogate) but have put in a lot of time working on the bare bones of the songs, tightening up structures and arrangements. We are going to be joined on the tour by the wonderful Barry Walsh on keyboards. Husband to and musical collaborator with Gretchen Peters, Barry’s musical pedigree is very impressive and we are looking forward to welcoming him as an honorary Hothead!
It’s exciting to have so much activity at this time of year and we would like to thank Tom Parkinson, Tim Binns, Annabel Cypher and the whole team at Warner Music for their support and hard work. We had a fab day at Metropolis Studios recently, rehearsing as a stripped down combo for a variety of radio and TV appearances, to be announced shortly.
On Monday 1st December we appeared on Sky Arts live broadcast of ‘Christmas Windows’ from Westfields, Stratford. After an afternoon spent rehearsing in a winter scene, under sweltering hot lights, we performed to a crowd of shoppers and fans gathered on the other side of the window. ‘Little Drummer Boy’, ‘It Came Upon A Midnight Clear’ and our own ‘Small Tasks’ kicked off the Christmas season and got us all in the mood.
Thanks to all at Sky Arts and a Merry Christmas to all.